Seventh-grader Abdul Alrifal, left, pulls up weeds outside the Mission Hill Community Garden for the United Way of York County Day of Caring, part of the three-class group volunteering at the garden. ABIGAIL WORTHING/Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier

BIDDEFORD — Celebrating another year of giving back to the community, students from Biddeford Middle School scattered through the city on Friday, May 24 to clean up their city and learn valuable lessons about civic engagement.

Sponsored by the United Way of York County, the Biddeford Youth Day of Caring brought students out to various locations around the city to do their part in beautifying the community. Students could be seen pruning, clearing, and cleaning up trash in areas like the Mission Hill Community Garden, the Biddeford YMCA, Heart of Biddeford, and the Biddeford Food Pantry.

The United Way of York County worked with the Heart of Biddeford, a downtown revitalization organization, to organize the day-long event. The event is meant to promote volunteerism within the community and help students engage in different aspects of their community they might not have know about before.

“We’re fortunate to be able to provide such a great learning opportunity to our students,” said Biddeford Middle School Principal Scott Descoteaux. “It’s an important day for them to learn about the community, and the businesses and organizations that are available to them that they may not even be aware of.”

This is the third year that Biddeford Middle School has participated in this event, and according to Descoteaux, all 450 students were volunteering throughout Biddeford.

At the Mission Hill Community Garden, students worked together to clear out the weeds and plants at the perimeter of the garden, as well as move and clear dirt and brush throughout the area. Three classes of seventh-grade students from Biddeford Middle School were hard at work in the garden.

“Each student has a job, and they’re all working together today,” said Biddeford Middle School literacy instructor Mary Bellavance. “It’s so nice to see all these kids out in the community.”

Students were all wearing a Day of Caring T-shirt, provided by event sponsor Biddeford Savings Bank, emblazoned with a design created by one of Biddeford Middle School’s seventh grade-students John Gatchalian. When asked what his favorite part of the day was, Gatchalian said that he really like “moving the dirt” with the provided wheelbarrows.

Throughout the garden, students worked diligently to pull up and bag weeds to beautify the area, some had a contest for who could produce the heaviest bag of weeds. One such seventh-grader, Abdul Alrifae, was excited to be participating for the second year and was enjoying his time outside.

“My favorite thing about this is working in the garden,” said Alrifae. “And the joy of helping keep my community clean.”

The United Way of York County works to improve the lives of residents by encouraging them to get involved and utilize the resources available to them. For the Youth Day of Caring, the organization aims to instill civic habits that will last a lifetime.

Yusef Abbas, a seventh-grade student at Biddeford Middle School, helped weed and prune the greenery surrounding the Mission Hill Community Garden for the United Way of York County Day of Caring, during which the students performed acts of civil service to benefit their communities. ABIGAIL WORTHING/Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier

“While this is a great day for students, behind the scenes there are a lot of people working 11 months for this one day,” said United Way of York County Community Impact Direct Jason Ketterick. “People who are preparing the sites, working with schools, coordinating with the police, everyone works to make this a great learning experience.”

According to Kettering, the United Way of York County hopes to introduce students to the merits of community service through the Day of Caring, and the life values that come with it.

“We’re out here in places that members of the community want to visit now, like the parks around the city,” said Kettering, speaking from Rotary Park where students were also volunteering. “There was originally some parental resistance to allow the students to come downtown, but it’s been a really good experience for the kids.”

Descoteaux and Kettering both expressed satisfaction at the turnout of the day, and gratitude for the community that made it happen.

“All of the organizations that came together to help make this happen, like Heart of Biddeford and Biddeford Savings, we are so grateful for,” said Descoteaux. “It’s great to see the students have that prideful feeling of giving back. Volunteering is an intrinsic learning experience.”

The United Way of York County will be holding its Day of Caring for adults on June 5 across York County. For the Day of Caring in 2018, 750 volunteers showed up to clean up their communities. This year, the United Way of York County anticipates over 1,000 volunteers. For more information on how to volunteer for the June 5 event, visit the United Way of York County website at

— Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected]

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