FAIRFIELD — Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, so in 2012 when Armijo High School students who were enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program needed 150 community service hours to graduate, they decided to create a club to help them fulfill their individual requirements.
The Armijo Helping Hands club quickly became a win-win for the students and the community. They have now shown up in force and helped with local events that range from school carnivals to the Solano Turkey Trot.
Sara Johnson, a Spanish instructor at Armijo, is the club’s adviser and recalled its beginnings.
“A couple of years ago, I had three students, one of whom has since graduated, tell me they had an idea for a club,” Johnson said. “As part of the International Baccalaureate program, they need to complete 150 CAS or Creativity, Action and Service hours. For creativity they could, say, make a mural for a school beautification project or for action they could tutor kids or for service they could donate hours to a local soup kitchen. Doing projects together meant they could socialize as well.”
The membership of the Armijo Helping Hands club swelled from about 40 last year to approximately 75 this year. During the school year, they meet twice a week during lunch. The officers of the club discuss opportunities that have been presented to the group on Mondays and the entire membership decides on Wednesdays which projects to take on.
Two essentials are plenty of advance notice and a head count of needed volunteers.
“We try to accommodate everything we can, but there are limitations because many of the kids are already doing sports in addition to the rigorous academic program,” Johnson said.
Cristian Cobos, 18, is the outgoing Armijo Helping Hands president and a co-founder. He is graduating next month and then furthering his education in Chico in the fall.
“A group of friends wanted to create a service club where young adults can have an opportunity to get involved in their community,” Cobos said. “We don’t create the opportunities; we just connect them with opportunities that are already available.”
The group has now participated in a number of events – most recently the Sunrise Run in Vacaville and the ¡Vamos! fundraising festival at B. Gale Wilson K-8 School in Fairfield.
“The first event that we did was the Halloween carnival in Suisun Valley,” Cobos said. “We coordinated all the games and we set up and cleaned up and helped with passing out water and serving food. We also did a dinner for the homeless during Thanksgiving with Mission Solano. During Christmastime, we went to the retirement community at Rancho Solano and did Christmas caroling there and gave the residents Christmas cards. We also participated in the Angel Tree program and every person in the club got to sponsor a kid and give them a present for Christmas.”
While fulfilling their service hours may be the catalyst for some, for Cobos the payoff is personal.
“The best part of it for me is giving back. I just love seeing the smiles on people’s faces and knowing that you are making the community a better place not only for you, but for generations to come,” Cobos said. “To me, that is more rewarding than anything.”
David Rodriguez, 15, is the incoming Armijo Helping Hands president. He will be a junior next year. Rodriguez hopes to build on the club’s foundation. They hit the ground running and already have events scheduled for the summer and for the next school year.
“Our new officers started planning an event on June 21 in Vallejo, the Color Vibe 5K,” Rodriguez said. “Next year, we will do a mentoring program at Fairview Elementary in Fairfield and try to help some of the kids there get on the right path.”
Like Cobos, Rodriguez has discovered the rewards of volunteerism run deeper than service requirements.
“All my life I have taken so many things for granted and I never even realized it. Once I got in the club, I started seeing how people really appreciate what you do for them,” Rodriguez said. “Simply making cotton candy at the ¡Vamos! festival and seeing the little kids’ faces light up made me realize how much I love doing this. I am really excited for next year and I can’t wait to see where this club can go.”
In the dozen years that Johnson has been teaching, the members of the Armijo Helping Hands club have surprised her the most with their altruism.
“It has been my experience that the teen years are the most egocentric – not that it is necessarily a bad thing. That’s what you do at that point in life – realize your responsibilities and for the most part focus on yourself,” Johnson said. “So for them to initiate this club shows me a level of maturity that I don’t see very often. It’s been very inspiring to see the care and concern they have not only for their fellow man, but for the improvement of the community at a local level.
“They look for ways to be a part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.