Varsity letters aren’t just for sports stars, thanks in part to a type of club gaining traction at Skagit County high schools.
Sedro-Woolley High School formed a Varsity in Volunteerism club four years ago, and Concrete and Burlington-Edison high schools have since formed clubs of their own.
On Wednesday afternoon, B-EHS Varsity in Volunteerism President Kaylen Camarillo led a team of club members in sorting and organizing donations to the school’s community closet, which offers clothing and school supplies to students in need.
“(Volunteering) has opened my eyes to how this small school could make a difference,” Camarillo said.
The club formed last year with nine members, but now has about 30, said Vice President Sandra Lopez.
Members have raised money for food banks, have volunteered at West View Elementary School and have collected school supplies for students in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The clubs are funded by United Way of Skagit County, but organized by United General District 304 Community Health Outreach Programs and coaches at each of the three schools, said Debra Lancaster, executive director of United Way of Skagit County.
“They learn, truly, the joys of volunteering,” she said.
Lancaster said the clubs help students form connections within the school and within the community because half of the 100 volunteer hours required to letter must be done outside the school.
In previous years, Lopez said she didn’t feel involved in her school.
Volunteering clubs such as Varsity in Volunteerism and Key Club, where she is also an active member, helped create a connection, she said. And the varsity letter was a welcome bonus.
“I feel like some things are underappreciated when compared to sports, especially volunteering,” Lopez said. “It feels great to get recognition.”
The club invited a volunteer from Worksource Skagit to talk to the club about résumés and personal finance, Camarillo said, highlighting an example of a community resource she said she wouldn’t have been aware of and isn’t being utilized by her peers.
Lancaster said the Skagit County clubs are among the few in the country that offer varsity letters.
“The recognition ... can be a pretty powerful reason to keep volunteering,” she said.
She said United Way is looking to expand the program to other schools in the county.
Riley McClenaghan, vice president of the Sedro-Woolley club, has been active in the club throughout her four years of high school.
“(The club) is a great way to get involved with a group and help out,” she said.
Her club has about 60 active members who have done about 4,000 hours of volunteer work since the school year began in September.
McClenaghan works two jobs, plays on the school’s tennis team and takes Running Start classes, but still finds time to volunteer.
“(Volunteering) is time to focus on something other than me,” she said.