Brush Rush? I wasn’t sure what to expect when it was announced in chapel that we were going to reach out to the community and help elderly or disabled neighbors who needed their yards and properties cleaned up. I asked my friends, and they told me that “brush” referred to the plants that people don’t want in their yards. “Rush” means to hurry, but it’s also an offensive play in football. So basically, we were going to attack the brush in people’s yards fast and hard to clean it all up.

Sheldon Parris, our new principal at Newbury Park Adventist Academy, explained to us: “My mission is to get the students and faculty more actively involved in service to our community. My larger mission is to educate students for eternity. I want students to live a life of service through character and integrity, according to the plans that God has for them.” As an international student from China, this concept was very new to me. None of my schools had ever organized projects focused on helping the community, and we certainly never did any kind of labor outside of our campus.

Parents, teachers, and students gathered at 7:30 a.m. in the school cafeteria and enjoyed breakfast together. Afterwards, we had a choice of where to volunteer. There were three projects that needed 40 students each, and two projects that needed 15 students each. All of the projects were in the Thousand Oaks, Calif., area and included gardening and painting. My classmates and I signed up according to the projects we were most interested in completing.

I chose to work at a mobile home park. I had been feeling anxious about what to expect, but the excitement around me was contagious. When we arrived at the site, the volunteers took out the tools they brought and we organized into teams and went right to work. It was amazing how much we got done!

I watched yards transform from being unattractive, full of weeds and unsightly bushes, to being neat and tidy. Everyone was talking, laughing, singing, and working hard to make the place look really nice. I heard one of the neighbors say, “It’s great of your school to hold this kind of activity.” I heard another neighbor say, “Wow, I haven’t seen my yard look this good in maybe ten years!”

It was wonderful to see the way our service brought joy and happiness to the neighborhood. When we returned to the school I heard that some of the neighbors said they would love to have us back in the future. We also received several letters thanking us for our service. Armstrong Garden Centers in Thousand Oaks gave us a discount on ground covering plants and said they would be happy to work with us on our future projects.

When the projects were done, I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done. My friends agreed. Cristina Mattis told me, “It was refreshing to step out of our own problems and help someone else.” Nam Nguyen said, “It was great and satisfying to try to help others. We ought to contribute to society even if we are young,” David Berrios said. “It was fun to help people who really needed it.”

Getting back to the dorm, I dropped onto my bunk. I don’t think I have ever felt so exhausted in my entire life. My friend Jerry Wang told me, “Tiredness is like the stars in the sky, and the happiness of helping elderly people is like the sun. When the sun rises, all stars disappear.” I think he is right. When I saw how happy the elderly people were with our work, I felt complete happiness. I’m glad I was able to do something new and make a big difference in our community. I can’t wait until the next project.