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New youth service coordinator connects youth with volunteering in Farmington

Renee Gerster

FARMINGTON — It is never too early to engage youth in volunteering.

Volunteer hours can open doors and show young men and women how to build a solid work ethic. The hours can reveal how caring and time can make a difference in another person's life.

That is the foundation of a new Farmington school district position. After much discussion in recent years, Farmington School Board approved the addition of a new position.

Renee Gerster, 27, was hired as the new youth service coordinator this past February. As a former teacher, she also worked with middle schoolers within a before- and after-school program at District 197.

"I am working a mix of two. I am like a liaison with community education and the schools, and I am connecting the two worlds," Gerster said.

Her primary job responsibilities are to keep track and verify volunteer work and hours and coordinate volunteer opportunities for youth at Farmington High School. Gerster also works with district youth enrichment programming.

"I am also a contact for the community and for people looking for volunteers," Gerster said. "I am often trying to do the same thing in two worlds — that is knocking down the silos to be more collaborative as a district," said Gerster.

Currently, she is based out of the Instructional Service Center. Next year she will work out of Farmington High School and Boeckman Middle School while the ISC building is under construction.

"I am often traveling from one building to another. I am really excited I have the freedom to go where I am needed and support whatever is happening in the schools," Gerster said. "I get to meet students and help them connect with things that are happening in the community."

The school district aims to instill the value of volunteerism and giving back to the community, she said. In addition, many of the school district's teams and clubs already have a philanthropic component.

"I bring a huge momentum and help push and tie them together," she said. "I want to promote what the schools are already doing. It is a good feeling and I want to permeate that throughout the schools."

Since youth who are new to volunteering are filled with possibility, it has been an inspirational journey to see youth become passionate about volunteering, she said.

As the coordinator, she has already built partnerships with Trinity Care Center, Farmington Fire Department, and Project Explore in District 196 that works with adults who live with special needs and disabilities. Another major connection with student volunteering has been Dakota County.

"We have more students who are passionate about volunteering with animals at the Minnesota Zoo and others who can become advocates and share," Gerster said.

Other students have worked with animals through the nonprofit animal rescue, Last Hope of Farmington.

Students can earn a varsity service letter at Farmington High School and be eligible for a presidential service award. All the community service and volunteering hours roll over each year. Students can strive to earn 100, 250, 500 or even 1,000 hours of community service work during high school.

"They can learn to set goals and be responsible and they can go after the high achieving levels if they become really passionate to go after that accomplishment," Gerster said. "We find the students think this is an easy way to connect them with their passions and skills that help connect them to the community."

Parents and youth can connect on social media and find out more about the program at www.tigerserve.com. Gerster can be contacted at rgerster@farmington.k12.mn.us.