IN THE CLASSROOM:Volunteer trailblazers

Dozens of Laguna Beach High School students have revealed their inner characters to the Disneyland Resort.

But Pluto, Minnie Mouse and Clarabelle Cow were far from the students' minds; rather, they collectively gave thousands of hours of their time to benefit nonprofit organizations in Disneyland's Show Your Character community service project program.

Students Madison Zraick, Ana Lincoln, Aprile Dale, Siara Barber-Crespo and Amy Briano chose to partner with Shanti Orange County, a nonprofit social service agency that assists those in the county affected by HIV/AIDS.

The students were honored at the April 3 meeting of the Laguna Beach City Council.

"These were real trailblazers," Shanti Orange County Executive Director Susan Kasman said. "The goal was to learn the importance of volunteerism."

In addition to developing a questionnaire about HIV/AIDS, the students attended two AIDS education seminars, prepared food for meals to be distributed to the homebound and participated in Shanti's Sea of Hearts public awareness promotion.

"They are in the final phase of a video documentary, which will be shown at the May 3 HIV Advisory Committee meeting and also used in student health classes," Kasman said.

Part of the project was to find a public venue to make the presentation.

"We chose the City Council meeting," Kasman said.

Melting Colors

Other students chose to partner with Art & Creativity for Healing, Inc. of Laguna Niguel on a project called "Melting Colors." The nonprofit facilitates fine-art classes and workshops for children, teens and adults suffering from abuse, illness and grief. This was the nonprofit's third year of participation in the Disneyland program since its launch in 2004.

Forty projects were proposed by Orange County nonprofits; "Melting Colors" was one of 10 to be selected to receive a $7,500 "Golden Partnership Award" from the Disneyland Resort and is eligible for a $20,000 grand prize, the winner of which will be determined later this month.

"Melting Colors" was a cross-generational activity that involved children ages 6 to 12 at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Laguna Beach and senior citizens at Legion Hall and two assisted-living residences in Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills.

The project was designed to foster cross-generational connections to eliminate the barriers that separate three generations of a community: children, teens and senior citizens.

An exhibition of the art by both seniors and club members opens today at the Laguna Beach Unified School District office, 550 Blumont St. The Orange County Department of Education will also display the works over the summer.

The project began when the nonprofit facilitated a half-day workshop for nearly 30 high school students. The students were taught how to conduct the art project, and then taught younger Boys & Girls Clubs members.

In the exercise, kids were told to interpret the idea of "melting three generations together" using paint on canvas. The completed works of art were given to hundreds of senior citizens, including those at Legion Hall.

The seniors then had the opportunity to create their own "Melting Colors" art, also facilitated by the high school students; the seniors' works were then given to the club members.

"I would just like to say that this is a great, opportunity-of-a-lifetime project," said high school freshman Morgan Crowl. "What could be better than bringing art to senior citizens and little kids? This is a project I probably won't forget for a long time."

"Working with the children made me realize how much high school students are looked up to by the younger generation. It also made me realize how much I had in common with the younger generation," junior Jami Andrews said.

Sophomore Cassidy Robinson got to know one of the senior citizens on a personal level.

"She used to be a math teacher and told me repetitively that she wasn't good at art. She said, 'There was a teacher for art, and I taught arithmetic.' I told her she didn't have to be a talented artist to do the assignment but rather be able to paint how she feels. She then told me that I was smart and should go to college."

Robinson also pulled more out of the exercise than the glow of a compliment.

"I learned not to stereotype seniors," she said. "Most were very inspiring and insightful."

All students who administered the projects are now eligible to apply for a $1,000 Disneyland Resort Legacy Scholarship.

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