'Changing lives': Maple High students, Lompoc Police officers volunteer at Project Surf Camp
A group of about 20 Maple High School students, graduates and staff members traveled to Morro Bay this month for an annual service project that also served to connect various members of the local community.
The Maple crew made the trip Wednesday to participate in the annual Project Surf Camp, an 11-year-old program designed to build self-confidence and self-esteem among individuals with special needs. The Maple volunteers worked with young children, many of them with disabilities, from military families stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base. This year, for the first time, the Maple participants brought along additional local helpers thanks to an assist from the Lompoc Police Department.
Matt Makowetski, a Maple High teacher who helped start the summer tradition at the school six years ago, said he invited members of the Police Department — Lompoc Police Capt. Joe Mariani and Officer David Lamar ultimately accepted the offer — in an effort to provide the Maple High students with chances to work alongside the officers in an unusual setting.
“And it totally worked,” Makowetski said. “The Lompoc Police Department was absolutely wonderful and it gave our students a different perspective on the Police Department and law enforcement, as far as community outreach, so in that respect it was great.”
That was just one of the ways in which the camp fulfilled its purpose of “changing lives,” according to Makowetski.
As it does each year, the camp once again afforded the high school students and graduates opportunities to work and interact with the young campers, whom they helped in the water. The older participants likely learned just as much or more than the children, Maple High Principal Katy Wallace said.
“We had a student who doesn’t swim, but he was out there anyway because he needed to show this kid that ‘Hey, it’s OK to put your body on this board and we’re gonna help you overcome (your fears) to find your place and your space in the water,’” said Wallace, who was among the attendees at the daylong camp. “It’s really a cool thing. The (Maple students) really get a lot out of it, just to help these little kids.”
Makowetski applied for and received a $500 grant from SESLOC Federal Credit Union to help pay for the trip. He noted that the grant was titled “Maple High School and Changing Lives.”
“The idea was to show our students that by giving of themselves and changing lives, they can change their own lives,” he said.
Makowetski said the annual event is growing each year at the continuation school, which offers alternative programs and serves students whose education needs, for whatever reason, weren’t being met at traditional campuses.
Evidence of the power of Project Surf Camp, he said, can be seen in the faces of the parents whose young children are aided by the Maple students, and also in the fact that several Maple alumni have returned to participate in the camp after graduating.
“So many of our students come to Maple High School sort of disenfranchised from school,” Makowetski said. “They just haven’t bought into it and they don’t see a clear purpose to it. Having this project as the culminating event (of the school year) showed not just our graduating seniors, but also showed our up-and-coming seniors who will hopefully soon be graduates that you can give of yourself and change lives, and by doing that, it enhances your own life.
“It speaks to the power of not just the project,” he added, “but also of Maple High School — working toward a diploma and changing your life for the better.”
Wallace, who was raised in Lompoc, said she’s proud to help continue the project and provide the students with opportunities to be of service to others. Wallace said she was involved in service organizations as a teacher, and has worked whenever she could to pass those ideals to students.
“I think it’s really important that we stay involved in the community,” she said. “I want these kids to understand that there are things that they can involve themselves in outside of school.
“We hear a lot in Lompoc that there’s nothing to do,” she added. “Growing up here, I used to hear that and I used to say that, but there are so many things you can do to volunteer and stay involved. I think if, as adults and as a group, we show them that there are things to do and there are ways to involve yourself, I think that’s really important.”