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More than 300 Shady Side Academy students participate in Day of Service

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 12:27 p.m.
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Shady Side Academy students volunteer at the fourth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. At the Heinz Campus of the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System in O’Hara, students led a game of bingo.
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Shady Side Academy students spent the day at several locations around the region doing hands-on activities. At the VA Hospital in O'Hara they prepared root beer floats.

Katie-Bray McGhee gave up sleeping in and a day off school last week to scoop ice cream to patients at the veteran's hospital in O'Hara.

She made the right decision, said the 10th-grader at Shady Side Academy, who participated in the school's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 20.

“Giving back to the community is especially important to me because it is a great way to expand on my small and limited viewpoints of the world,” she said.

The MLK Day of Service, in its fourth year, saw more than 200 SSA students and 100 staff and parents commit their time and effort to helping people from around the region.

Students split into eight groups where they prepared meals for the homeless, made minor renovations to area shelters and played bingo with hospital patients.

Some groups who received help this year include The Homeless Children's Education Fund, Bethlehem Haven Shelter, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital and the Kingsley Center of East Liberty.

McGhee spent her day at the VA Pittsburgh Health System Heinz Campus in O'Hara, along with about three dozen others who played games, ate lunch and served root beer floats to patients.

The sophomore said she felt she was the one to benefit.

“It helped me learn about amazing people that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten the chance to know,” she said.

“I really got to listen to these men's stories and appreciate all of their service to our country.”

One of the patients, an amputee, gave her a teapot that he created in the ceramics room at the hospital.

“He only had one arm and was still able to create the most beautiful things,” she said. “It was a really great experience, and I loved getting to meet these men.”

Math teacher Mary Krauland said that was the point of the socialization, to give students a greater appreciation of others' sacrifices.

“Just to see all those people in wheelchairs and to interact with them instead of just hearing about veterans' service, that was special,” Krauland said.

“The patients responded in such a positive way and there were a lot of caring conversations.”

This is the fourth annual Day of Service hosted by SSA students and staff, meant to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since the first year, the event has grown from 230 students, staff and parents to more than 300 this year.

The goal is to instill the value of service, Academy President Tom Cangiano said.

“It is important to us to be deliberate in finding ways for our students to engage with and serve the communities beyond our campus gates,” he said.

Tenth-grader Sarah Anania also spent her day off mixing milkshakes and making cards for patients at the VA hospital.

“It brings our community together in an amazing way,” she said. “It is an experience that I will never forget.”

Sarah said another WWII veteran also shared his passion for ceramics with the students, along with regaling them with military stories.

“It not only made his day but mine,” she said.

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