Minnetonka High School is nurturing a new kind of clique.
Call it the kind kids.
The west metro high school is one of a growing number of high schools that allow students to letter in community service in addition to athletics, academics, music and other extracurricular activities.
“You just have to have a passion for serving, which anyone can do,” said Michelle Seets, Minnetonka Public Schools community service specialist.
It’s part of a greater effort by school leaders to help shape well-rounded students with sharp minds and big hearts.
“Serving the greater good is part of our mission statement,” said Minnetonka Schools Superintendent Dennis Peterson. “We think it’s important that we acknowledge students who are doing service projects in the community. We just think it’s important enough to give it a letter.”
The community letter is as rigorous as any extracurricular. Students must log 150 hours of volunteer time in 12 consecutive months. Half those hours must be focused in a specific area or cause.
At the end of the year, students must complete a reflection project that can range from essays to artwork to a presentation. Students also are required to get two letters of recommendation.
“For a 16-year-old, that is really uncomfortable,” Seets said of the letter requirement. “That is one of the reasons we added that part — so they have that experience. It’s incredibly valuable.”
The community service letter is growing in popularity. Last school year, 54 students earned it, up from around 30 the year prior.
“We have greatly increased the visibility of the varsity letter in the past year,” Seets said.
Jimmy Bohn heard about the lettering opportunity during school announcements and decided to go for it.
During his freshman year, he built a paver patio at a senior home, which also helped him achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. The last two years, he’s volunteered as a warehouse assistant at Bridging, a nonprofit that provides furnishings and household goods to families in need. He moves furniture and packs trucks.
He’s continued to volunteer at Bridging because it fills an important yet often overlooked need for struggling families.
“It’s unique,” he said. “They let families in need walk throughout and pick out furniture,” he said.
Bohn, 16, said volunteering looks good on college applications but it also feels like the right thing to do.
“I liked helping out the community,” said Bohn, now a junior. “There is so much that can be done.”
Senior Lily Hohag has pursued the community service letter all four years of high school while also lettering in lacrosse, diving and academics.
One year, she assisted a fourth-grade teacher.
“It was super cool to be in the classroom with all the kids,” Hohag said. “I want to be a teacher someday.”
She’s also helped coach young girls on the finer points of lacrosse, sorted and shelved items at a nonprofit thrift store and volunteered at an international girls’ and women’s leadership nonprofit.
Hohag said it is the fond memories of volunteers helping her when she was young that inspires her.
“I want to make sure kids feel the same way I did,” Hohag said. “I want them to have the same opportunities that I had.”
Her mother, Debbie Hohag Anderson, said she’s proud of her daughter’s compassion and generosity.
Volunteering and giving back are family values that Hohag Anderson introduced to her daughter early in life.
“I wanted Lily to see the world outside the bubble we live in,” Hohag Anderson said. “If I raised a child that ended up entitled, that would be my biggest failure. Our main purpose in life is to serve and connect to others. When we leave this world, we want to leave it a little bit better than when we arrived.”