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All too often, when we hear about teens in the news these days, it’s not something positive.

However, the fact is that most of today’s youths are good kids, and many of them are making a terrific impact on the community through volunteering.

This was evident during the Volunteer Recognition Breakfast last April, where seven of the nominees were individual youths and youth groups, including Nekoosa Academy for its participation in Backpack for Kids and several volunteer groups from Lincoln High School, or LHS. This is also evident at LHS’s Volunteer Center, where students can sign up for a variety of volunteer opportunities that benefit the school and community.

Ashley Piltz has been volunteering since the eighth grade, starting out with babysitting for some friends who needed help. But things changed when her friend Margarita Rebolledo asked her to join her Girl Scout troop as they helped at The Neighborhood Table.

TNT provides a free community meal to anyone in need every Thursday and the last two Tuesdays of each month. The program is hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wisconsin Rapids.

“She dragged me in to volunteer,” said Ashley. “We didn’t know what to do. We were really shy, so we asked her troop leader. She had me work as a table server, and Margarita helped at the drink cart.”

However, once the scouting volunteer commitment was fulfilled, Ashley and Margarita continued to volunteer at TNT.

“We kept going every week by ourselves,” said Ashley. “I thought it was a lot of fun and a good learning experience. We were in eighth grade at the time and didn’t know a lot about the community. Plus, since we were going to East Junior High School, it was easy to get there.”

Now, they volunteer at TNT six times a month.

“We help cook, wash dishes, work at the drink cart and dessert table, serve tables, assemble take-out meals and greet at the door,” said Ashley. “There are people who don’t have a lot, and senior citizens who don’t have a lot of people to talk to. It’s nice to help out. Everyone who goes there knows me. We give juice to babies. The older folks ask me how school is going. They have a smile on their faces. It makes me happy because they come in looking gloomy. We made their day better.”

Ashley and Margarita also are building relationships with the other volunteers at TNT, in particular some of the organizers.

“We call Barb Trickle, Jim Steen and Jim Dunn our ‘Grandma and Grandpas!’ People ask us if they really are our grandparents. Of course we say ‘no,’” Ashley said.

The TNT organizers were so impressed with Ashley and Margarita, they even nominated them for the Volunteer Recognition Breakfast in 2012.

Ashley’s volunteerism has continued during the years since. “In 10th grade, I had a World Issues class with Mrs. Klumb, who is also one of the Student Council advisers,” said Ashley. “One day, she made an announcement about joining Student Council in class. I decided to run. I had to give a speech to the Student Council to get in, so the topic I chose was TNT.”

Once in Student Council, she volunteered at Stuff the School Bus by sorting school supplies, helped at sophomore orientation and raked leaves for Day of Caring.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Zirnhelt from LHS’s Volunteer Center made an announcement regarding the Presidents Volunteer Service Award. Ashley filled out a lengthy online form, listed her volunteer hours — which currently total 899 hours! — and wrote an essay about why she volunteers. The first-place winner received a scholarship and a trip to Washington, D.C. Although Ashley didn’t win first place, she did receive a pin, a certificate of achievement and a letter from the President. She also recently was recognized at LHS’s “Lunch Bunch,” where once a month, different teachers/advisers nominate students for recognition.

“When people see teens, they think we play on our phones and hang out all day,” said Ashley. “But a lot of teens have ideas and don’t come out and say it. A lot of us help out in the community. The community needs help.”

Ashley encourages anyone who wants to volunteer to get involved. To volunteer for TNT, you can visit its website, www.theneighborhoodtable.org; or you also can call United Way of Inner Wisconsin’s Volunteer Center at 715-421-0390. Join Ashley in changing the world.

Angela Loucks is United Way of Inner Wisconsin’s Volunteer Center coordinator. The Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly feature. If your non-profit organization has an outstanding volunteer, or group of volunteers, and would like to make a nomination, please call United Way of Inner Wisconsin’s Volunteer Center at 715-421-0390.

Volunteer spotlight

Name: Ashley Piltz, 17

Nominating Agency: Lincoln High School’s Volunteer Center

Residence: Wisconsin Rapids

Family: Mom, Linda Cather, and dad, Scott Piltz; brother Luke is a senior at LHS; brother Jon lives in Wisconsin Rapids; and sister Jessica lives in Eau Claire with her husband and two children.

School/Grade: a junior at LHS

Hobbies and interests: baby sitting, plays violin in the Mariachi Band and Chamber Band, sings in the Chamber Jazz Ensemble, sings at retirement homes and at school events and is a Student Council member.

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