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Students organize volunteer conference

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

“Do-gooders of the Roaring Fork Valley unite!”

Aspen Middle School teacher Peter Westcott and his class of altruistic fifth-graders hope this call to arms will draw attention to the valley’s first service learning conference.

The conference – which will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Waldorf School in Carbondale – will serve as a meet-and-greet of sorts for local philanthropists. Through the program, Westcott and the class hope to pair hard-working volunteers with local nonprofit organizations.

The conference will feature a variety of workshops on subjects such as volunteer training and legal issues faced by nonprofits. Speakers and presenters from a cross section of the valley’s volunteer groups will also be on hand.

“We’re not bringing in outside speakers, because we really want to focus on the local aspect of this conference,” Westcott said.

The conference will not only match local nonprofits and volunteers; it will also help local schools find an interest in service learning – providing a service to the community through class work. Students should not only help their fellow man through community service, Westcott’s class believes, but grow through the process.

Westcott ensures that his students are familiar with the practice of service learning – his past classes have completed tasks as varied as local fund-raising drives to trips to needy communities in Mexico. The conference, students hope, will encourage the same ambition in other valley schools.

“We’re also inviting one student and teacher from each school” for that purpose, said fifth-grader Gentry Fyrwald.

“We called all the schools [between Aspen and Glenwood Springs], so we’re hoping they’ll all come,” said classmate Gracie Nichols.

But the conference will do more to encourage volunteer matchmaking.

“We made this service learning conference to help our Web site,” said 11-year-old Daniel Doremus.

The site, designed with class input, will help facilitate “instant communication” between would-be volunteers and nonprofits. A local student looking for community service opportunities, for instance, could log on to the site and quickly find an organization of interest.

“It is as simple as as registering with the new Web site, and then sending out an e-mail, which will only go to others registered in the system who might benefit from the match-up,” promotional materials for the conference state.

The Web site’s design and address will be unveiled during the conference.

Meanwhile, Westcott’s class will perform a variety of behind-the-scenes work at the conference.

“We’ll be showing people where to park and where the bathrooms are,” said 10-year-old Amy Wang.

“So we get to skip school – but we have to go there,” Doremus said.

Seating for the conference is limited to 200 people, so Westcott requests that interested groups reserve their spots early. To RSVP, contact Westcott and his class at 925-3760, extension 2111, or e-mail petersclass@hotmail.com.

Though the conference is technically free for attendees, Westcott and his class are requesting a $5 donation to help cover organizational costs.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]


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