WALKER, La. (The Livingston Parish News) — While most high schoolers prefer to sleep in, play video games, or hang out with friends during their winter break, a group of Walker High students rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
Photo source: The Livingston Parish News
They pulled heavy stones and piled them in heaps; they scooped water out of a pond and filled it with dirt; they shoveled dirt into wheelbarrows before pushing them back and forth across the yard.
On a chilly Monday morning while most teenagers would still be in bed, this group of high schoolers chose to get their hands dirty, which didn’t bother senior Alli Clark one bit.
“Helping out in our community is very important to us,” Clark said as she placed another load of dirt into a nearby wheelbarrow.
For one elderly couple, the unsought for help was “a God send.”
“I just call it a Christmas miracle,” Linda Smith said.
A group of Walker High students spent part of their winter break volunteering at the home of William and Linda Smith, an elderly couple in Walker that has dealt with a recent string of major health complications in addition to the aftermath of the Great Flood of 2016.
Most of the students were part of Walker High’s Junior ROTC program, while a few others were cadets in the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Explorer Academy. All were there for the same reason — to donate their time to others who need it most.
But that doesn’t mean the students didn’t benefit at all from the endeavor, Clark said.
“This is my workout for the winter break,” she joked, drawing a laugh from classmates Alissa Frey and Emma Trammel.
For William and Linda Smith, the help was more than they could’ve hoped for.
The couple lives in the Three Lakes Subdivision, moving there from Baton Rouge about seven years ago to be closer to their children.
But devastation struck when their home took in 6 feet of water during the August 2016 flood, which washed away most of their belongings and forced an entire rebuild. They were out of their home for two years, splitting that time in a FEMA trailer and a camper while contractors repaired their home.
Or so they thought.
Kimberly Wallace, William and Linda’s daughter, said her parents fell victim to two fraudulent contractors who “took all of their money and ran,” leaving behind a list of unfinished work.
On that list was work on the couple’s decorative pond in their front yard, which was totally wrecked during the flood.
“My dad wasn’t able to really do much with it because of a string of recent health issues,” Wallace said, adding that her father recently fell in the garage that resulted in major back surgery.
In stepped Gunnery Sgt. Andre Sylvester, who leads Walker High’s Marine Corps Junior ROTC program.
Wallace met Sylvester during an event at Sam’s Club in Denham Springs in early December. During their conversation, Wallace asked Sylvester if he ever had his students do community service work.
As fate would have it, Sylvester said he had recently been giving serious thought to getting his students involved in service projects, and a plan was set for them to help Wallace’s parents. Wallace was beyond grateful.
“This is a lot for these kids to do for my parents,” she said. “This is just so awesome.”
Sylvester brought his team to the Smith’s home around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 30. They were joined by Aaron Bond, who heads the LPSO Explorer’s Academy, and two of Bond’s cadets.
For Sylvester, who retired from the U.S. Marines in 2010 after two decades of service, it afforded him a chance to help a fellow serviceman — something he said he can never do enough.
“I always love helping a fellow Marine,” said Sylvester, who also presented William with two small flags, a collection of military photos, and a camouflage hat that William immediately put atop his head.
“I tell you what, this is the most comfortable hat,” said a smiling William, who served in the U.S. Marines in the 1960s. “I like the hat.”
The group of seven teenagers and two adults quickly got to work, clearing the wrecked pond, filling it in with dirt, and disposing of the remains. The final task was moving a bulky stone turtle that required four people to lift off the ground.
Linda came outside just as the group was wrapping up, thanking them many times for helping her and her husband. William, too, thanked the group for volunteering at his home, smiling wide as he heaped compliments on them for the work they did.
“I tell you, they have changed my impression big time on the younger kids,” William said. “Those kids are working. They did a fantastic job. I just want people to know how amazing these kids are. I’m so thankful, so very thankful.”