More than 250 students and staff from Thomas County Middle School volunteered for Hands on Thomas County Day on Saturday, October 20. Assignments were given on Thursday, and students and staff arrived at their assigned locations ready to work on Saturday morning throughout Thomas County. Volunteers completed activities from picking up sticks and litter at Lost Creek Forest and spreading new pine straw at various locations throughout Thomas County to creating cards at the Red Cross for soldiers serving our country.  

Of the volunteers, more than 200 are part of the MERIT program at Thomas County Middle where students must complete a minimum of 20 service learning hours each school year. 

Dana Studdard, director of the MERIT program at Thomas County Middle said, “The purpose of community service learning is to extend learning beyond the classroom and into the community to promote civic responsibility through active participation in service experiences, to foster a sense of caring for others, and to develop a habit of volunteer service to those in need.  It’s important to give back to the community in which we live, and it’s important for students to see teachers and community leaders give back to the community.”

Dr. Lisa Williams, superintendent of Thomas County Schools, along with board member, Leah Smith, showed the importance of giving back by working alongside students and other volunteers throughout the morning.

Other groups volunteering from Thomas County Middle School included Student Council, who spread pine straw at Thomas County Board of Education and Bishop Hall, and FFA, who freshened flower beds and spread pine straw at The City of Thomasville Public Works. 

“The last line of the FFA motto is ‘Living to Serve,’ and our FFA members strive to serve others throughout the year,” Audrey Davis, sponsor of FFA at Thomas County Middle School, said. “One-third of our chapter’s program of activities is dedicated to ‘Building Our Communities.’ These activities focus on improving the economic welfare and well-being of our community, encouraging students to become active, involved, more environmentally responsible citizens, and developing cooperation with local stakeholders. Hands on Thomas County is a great avenue for our members to accomplish all of these goals, and giving back to the community is always a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

Liza Jones, volunteer and parent of fifth-grade MERIT student, Dru Jones, said, “HOTC is a great volunteer opportunity for the MERIT students. Dru and I had a great morning cleaning up the Ochlocknee River. I loved seeing our community working together to make Thomas County beautiful.”

“I liked that we were able to help our community,” Payton West, fifth-grade MERIT student said. “My group helped clean up the Dog Park after the hurricane sent limbs and pinecones everywhere. We worked really hard and made it a lot cleaner for the dogs to run around.”  

Many students recognized that in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael that there were many more areas in need of cleanup, so volunteers were crucial to these efforts.