They had the day off from school, but nearly 50 Aberdeen Central High School students went to work Friday, volunteering as part of a "Make a Difference" event.
The four Aberdeen-area churches affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America organized a service event for youth members to carry out what was learned by South Dakota Synod youth members at the ELCA's National Youth Gathering last year.
Central sophomore Madisyn Waage went to the youth gathering in New Orleans.
"Most of us went to New Orleans," Waage said of youth service day participants. "We did community service there, and now this is our way of giving back to our own community."
Friday started with the students learning about various social justice issues, including hunger and the availability of clean water.
Amanda Mages, a Central senior, gave a presentation to classmates on The Water Project, a nonprofit organization she has been involved with since the eighth grade.
In the eighth grade, she became passionate about the issue of access to clean water and has been working to raise money to help provide clean drinking water to help communities in need.
She challenged others to take similar steps.
"One person and a desire to do something can really make a difference," she said of service projects. "It's not just talk. It's real."
She said it was exciting to see students doing good in the community.
"It's huge, and it's something you don't see a lot of," she said. "It's good for (the students) and good for the community."
Students spent time at Kids Against Hunger, the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen Area or participated in the Empty Bowls project at the Aberdeen Recreation and Cultural Center.
The Empty Bowls project involves volunteers creating clay bowls that will later be glazed and fired to be used for a fundraising meal on April 20. Proceeds from the event will go to area groups that help fight hunger, said Empty Bowls organizer Michelle Bacon.
Casey Barlow, a senior at Central, was excited to work on bowls at the ARCC. Fellow senior Kristyn Bahr, who is taking a pottery class at Central, got to work instantly on a pottery wheel.
She is a confirmation class teacher at Bethlehem Lutheran Church and was told about the event by the Rev. Kevin Bergeson.
"He told us about it and it sounded really fun," she said.
About half of her confirmation class came out to participate in the service day, she said.
For Waage, it was a day of service and learning.
"I'm realizing how much hunger and poverty is in our world and that we can do something about it," she said.
Churches that organized the event were Zion Lutheran Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Community of Hope.
Students from Northern State University and adult volunteers also helped Friday, Bergeson said.
"I think the whole day was fantastic," he said.
He said there are plans to have a similar event every year.
"The kids got to get involved in the community and put their faith in action," he said.
At the end of the day, students shared a meal and were treated to a concert at Bethlehem Lutheran Church with Rachel Kurtz and Agape.
Empty Bowls meeting today
The Empty Bowls project will meet at 10 a.m. in the pottery room of the Aberdeen Recreation and Cultural Center today. There is no age limit or cost to make the bowls. The bowls will be kept at the ARCC to be finished and used for a fundraiser meal April 20 that will benefit area food projects from the Salvation Army, Safe Harbor and Volunteers of America, among other groups.