A break from the convention center: 200 SkillsUSA participants volunteer to clean up Kessler Park

This group of students flew all the way from New Jersey to participate in the SkillsUSA conference in Kansas City this week. On June 27, the volunteered to clear brush from Kessler Park. Micah Wilkins

This group of students traveled all the way from New Jersey to participate in the SkillsUSA conference in Kansas City this week. On June 27, they volunteered to clear brush from Kessler Park. Micah Wilkins

Micah Wilkins
Northeast News

June 27, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Looking down into the forested area behind the Northeast’s colonnade on Friday morning, passersby may not have noticed anything different. But with a closer look, they may have noticed the trees rustling. And with an even closer look, they would see groups of people wearing matching blue shirts, trash bags and tools in hand.

Hidden amid the overgrown brush and trees, over 200 volunteers were working hard to clean up Kessler Park, clearing a path for hiking and mountain biking. These 200 volunteers were students and teachers participating in this week’s SkillsUSA national convention at Bartle Hall.

This year marks the 50th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. More than 15,000 high school and post-secondary students from all over showcased their technical and career skills.

“That’s my favorite part, you get to meet different people from around the country, like Kansas, Puerto Rico, Maine,” said Arthur Simmons, a high school student from Atlanta. “We come together, compete, have fun, and help the community.”

SkillsUSA organized groups of volunteers to take a break from the convention center to complete service projects throughout the city. Cleaning up Kessler Park, under the guidance of the Parks and Recreation department, was just one of many projects arranged by SkillsUSA, Simmons said.

“[SkillsUSA] sees the value of giving back to the community,” said Mary McGuire, a teacher at a technical high school in Minnesota.

The convention, which has been held in Kansas City for the last 21 years, has sent groups of volunteers to Swope Park for the last five years, but this year, the Parks department decided Kessler Park had a greater need.

“This park needs it,” said Brett Shoffner, executive director of the Cliff Drive Corridor Management Committee. “It needs some loving.”

Within a matter of minutes, volunteers cleared brush and picked up trash, cleaning up a section of the trail faster than Schoffner had anticipated. It turns out two hundred volunteers can get a lot of things done in a short amount of time.

“That’s a good problem to have,” McGuire said.

While most of the participants at SkillsUSA are from other parts of the country, they are happy to volunteer their time to work on projects. The service projects not only benefit the community, but they also help with team building, said Dawn Goebel, another teacher from Minnesota.

“While it’s not our community, it could very well be,” Goebel said. “This could be our park.”

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