Almost 150 seniors wore braided silver ropes with their graduation robes at the 2014 Valley High School graduation ceremony. Each student earned the honor by volunteering a minimum of 200 hours in the community.
With the silver cords on display at graduation, it may seem like earning one is the student volunteers’ main goal. Cyndi Bonus, Silver Cord program coordinator, disagrees. She believes students are motivated by the opportunity to give back to their community.
“It’s totally voluntary,” Bonus said. “It’s completely up to the students if they want to do it, so the fact that this is what they want to spend their time doing is awesome.”
The Silver Cord program was started in 2001 as a way to encourage students to start a lifetime of giving back. Students can begin tracking their volunteer hours in the summer between eighth grade and ninth grade. Senior students who have volunteered a minimum of 50 hours each year of high school earn the silver cord to wear at graduation.
Silver Cord Goes Digital
The program began listing volunteer opportunities on the WDMCS website in 2010 and went completely paperless for the 2014-15 school year. Prior to the transition, all students had to find their own volunteer opportunities, contacting potential sites and hoping to find the right person. Some students struggled to meet the location requirements. Others had trouble finding volunteer experiences that met their interests.
The Silver Cord webpage now functions as an opportunity database. A list of pre-approved volunteer opportunities offers 271 organizations students can choose from. Common volunteering sites are Living History Farms, Courage League Sports, Meals from the Heartland, and the Animal Rescue League. Students are still encouraged to bring in ideas for unique experiences, and many do; students have volunteered for political campaigns, gone on mission trips overseas, and volunteered as models at fundraisers like ChildServe’s Bubble Ball.
If students want to volunteer for an organization that is not pre-approved, they submit their ideas through the website. Once approved, volunteer sites are added to the student’s personal list so they don’t have to enter information more than once. Students also use the website to submit their volunteer hours and reflections after the hours are completed.
Organizations and Silver Cord
Organizations can also use the website. They can request pre-approval, and site supervisors approve students’ hours through the website. Supervisors are also able to add comments on a volunteer’s work. Bonus said many take advantage of the feature.
“Being on the website has really made all the difference,” Bonus said. “The reflections and feedback we’ve seen from students and organizations are really phenomenal.”
The online process and multitude of opportunities make it simple for any student to join the Silver Cord program, but successfully earning the award takes commitment. Many students end up using their summers to meet the requirements.
“Anyone in our entire school can participate in Silver Cord if they put the time in,” Bonus said. “If you put in the hours, you can earn it. But it’s not easy. We want it to be an honor that they’ve earned by going above and beyond.”
There are currently 890 students participating in the Silver Cord program. They have already contributed 27,000 volunteer hours to 1,293 organizations during the 2014-15 year.
Not every student will complete the program, but all will contribute time and effort back into their community. Those who do earn silver cords will wear them as they walk across the stage. Each individual cord is a symbol of personal achievement for a student, but together, the cords represent a program that is growing a generation dedicated to giving back.