The students involved in EcoFusion at St. Mary School in Canandaigua meet regularly after the school day is over, but the group is more than just another extracurricular activity, according to its founder, Ryan Kincaid.
"I kind of feel like it's a safe haven for the kids to be themselves, and to work cooperatively to benefit the community," said Kincaid, who also is the school's sixth-grade homeroom and middle-school science teacher.
EcoFusion is an afterschool program for middle-school students that combines community service, environmental stewardship and the creative arts. Participating students usually meet after school once a week, and occasionally take weekend field trips to such places as the Gleaner's Community Kitchen garden. There the students have weeded, planted and helped harvest the vegetables that the kitchen's volunteers use to produce the lunches they serve each day, free of charge, to the needy in the Canandaigua area.
"We even started the mural on the fence there, to which other volunteering groups have added components as well," Kincaid remarked.
EcoFusion members also have made homemade soup and pasta sauce for St. Mary's Harvest Lunch, volunteered at the Beverly Animal Shelter in Waterloo and at the Ontario ARC, and made blankets for migrant workers in the area. Future project goals include making paper, establishing a raised garden or flower bed at St. Mary School, and starting some recycling and other "eco-friendly" initiatives at the school, Kincaid said.
"The group does activities that are fun and build community within the group, but also meaningful and helpful within the larger school and Canandaigua area," she said. "It's a program which involves students, but focuses on the needs in the community, thus offering youths an opportunity to become aware of what's going on in the community and taking an active role in helping others."
A Geneva native, Kincaid organized a similar program for young people there before starting EcoFusion at St. Mary three years ago in order to involve students in meeting the particular needs of the Canandaigua community while at the same time inspiring the students.
"I want it to be somewhere the students feel comfortable and important, and encourage them to take an active role in figuring out and addressing needs in the world around them," she said. "What I love about the program is that it embraces who the participants really are, not just who they are or how they seem as students. They act differently, and sometimes more authentic, at EcoFusion."
The club's members participate in a lot of hands-on activities, which is particularly beneficial for those who struggle in the traditional classroom setting. These students shine when they are given the opportunity to discover, help, grow and teach in an alternative setting, Kincaid said.
Although EcoFusion is unique in its combination of service, environmental stewardship and the arts, St. Mary School is not the only school to offer opportunities for students to be involved in activities focused on those themes.
At Siena Catholic Academy in Brighton, for example, middle-school students have the opportunity to help the less fortunate in the community by participating in the school's Service Club. Students who are interested in drawing and painting can join the school's Art Club, and those who would like to participate in the school's musicals can join its Musical Club.