A Day “Off” Taught Valuable Lessons for Lincoln RAILS

Student and man raking leaves

One stop during the Lincoln RAILS day of service was helping alum and centenarian John McCaw with some yard work.

The RAILS Academy is the 9th grade branch of Lincoln High School, but Thursday the frosh blazed a trail for the upperclassmen when more than 500 of them signed up for the school’s first (annual?) Day of Service.

Here’s a sampling of some of the agencies and institutions that benefited from the outpouring of volunteer spirit:

Off Campus

  • Blank Park Zoo
  • Meals from the Heartland
  • City of Des Moines- Gray’s Lake
  • City of Des Moines Trash Bash
  • SE 14th Goodwill
  • South Suburban YMCA
  • Morris Elementary
  • Studebaker Elementary
  • Wright Elementary
  • Jackson Elementary
  • Lovejoy Elementary

On Campus

  • ARL
  • AHeinz57
  • Joppa
  • Ronald McDonald House
  • Stress Awareness month campaign
  • Central Iowa Shelter and Services
  • Teacher Appreciation Week
  • Operation Gratitude

Oh, and because at Lincoln, as principal Paul Williamson put it, “We take care of our own,” a crew also went to the home of Dr. John McCaw to do some yard work. Dr. McCaw is in the Lincoln Hall of Fame and a benefactor of his alma mater. He was a longtime professor at Drake University who also served on the Des Moines School Board. Earlier this year he celebrated his 100th birthday and he still lives in the Southside home where he’s been for the last 67 years. When a school bus pulled up in front, he was ready to go to work and pitched right in with the raking, mowing and tilling.

In addition to their stout backs the students brought along a gift bag for their boss-for-a-day filled with letters they’d written explaining what a typical day is like in the life of a 21st century Railsplitter. In return, McCaw delivered an impromptu history lesson/quiz in his backyard, explaining how homes were heated with coal from mines like the one under the ground they were standing on when he was in school. And how he attended Lincoln for six years, grades 7-12, because there were no junior highs/middle schools in the district during those years, let alone a standalone building for 9th graders.

“The seniors sold elevator tickets to the 7th graders,” he said, a joke that might have been lost on his audience.

Cara Edmondson is Lincoln’s Community in Schools Coordinator and her Lincoln roots run deep. Her uncle, Al Graziano, is a former principal there and she is a graduate and a member of the school’s alumni association board of directors. She was pleased with the level of interest in the event since students had the option of sitting it out and spending the day in study hall. But most signed up to contribute.

“Our students really stepped up and took the opportunity to give back to the Southside and our community,” Edmondson said. “We visited 18 sites for service off campus and housed eight projects in our building. The response from organizations so far has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Edmondson’s cousin, Nicole Graziano (daughter of Al), is the president of the alumni group and she was on hand at Dr. McCaw’s to invite him to an all-class reunion that’s being planned for later this month.

Sara Byers was part of the crew at Dr. McCaw’s home and she was glad to be there.

“This is a great opportunity to do something meaningful,” she said. “I really hope it passes on to Lincoln Main in the years ahead.”

RAILS Academy doesn’t have an official motto, but for today at least, here’s a suggestion: At Your Service.

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