Extra Hands for ALS—John Burroughs Students Honored for Lending a Hand to Make a Difference

High school students often get a bad rap. Sometimes it is deserved. High school, after all, can be a challenging time. And while figuring out this period of growth and change, students can and do sometimes make at best questionable decisions. We can all probably look back at our high school years and think of one or two (or maybe more) cringe-worthy moments. It is all part of growing up.

But it would be unfair to not acknowledge that high school students can and do have much to contribute to the greater good. In some cases, their dedication and energy towards a cause is nothing less than awe-inspiring. We have been witness to just such dedication and energy here in our local community in the form of John Burroughs School and the “Extra Hands for ALS” club.

Extra Hands for ALS is a service organization assisting people with ALS. The mission is to instill the importance of community service and develop leadership qualities in young adults by uniting them with people who have ALS and their families. Through the program, high school student volunteers help people with ALS with “friendly visitor” services such as helping with mail or email, housecleaning, getting groceries, doing yard work, reading aloud, or simply providing companionship. These things seem small, but they become a monumental challenge for people living with ALS. Beyond volunteerism, the students involved in Extra Hands plan and coordinate at least two completely student driven fundraising events a year, including bake sales, Ice Bucket Challenges and other parties.

The program, which has been in existence since 2012, will be honored this fall by the St. Louis Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals with the “Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy” award during National Philanthropy Day on November 14.

Extra Hands is the legacy of the late Jack Orchard, an alum of John Burroughs, Harvard and Stanford Universities. An international business person, entrepreneur, author, and person with ALS, Jack founded the Jack Orchard ALS Foundation, which raised money for ALS research, and then Extra Hands for ALS.

“ALS has shown me how connected we must be to each other, and how powerful we can become when we join together,” Jack wrote in a letter to friends and family. “We are social creatures regardless of the myths we tell ourselves about how we can forge untracked wilderness on our own. We need each other, it’s that simple.” It was this powerful mindset that drove the inception of Extra Hands.

Extra Hands has existed at John Burroughs since 2012 and since then has assisted at least 35 families. Senior leaders work to recruit underclass students to continue the program and keep it going with continuity. The impact of Extra Hands is immense for people living with ALS. It is estimated that the average out of pocket expense of ALS can be as high as $250,000 annually for a family living with the disease. At $30 an hour for professional caregiving, volunteer service is paramount to their care and stability. The 500+ hours that Extra Hands volunteers have provided equate to an estimated savings of approximately $15,000 for families of people with ALS.

“ALS has shown me how connected we must be to each other, and how powerful we can become when we join together…We need each other, it’s that simple.”

Jack Orchard

There is an impact for the students who take part in Extra Hands as well. “The impact of Extra Hands is large are far-reaching,” says Chelsey Carter, a former president of Extra Hands and now a student at Washington University. “Not only do club leaders directly help people in need and advance us towards a cure through their fundraising, they are the problem solvers of tomorrow and the ones who will end neurological illness for good.”

John Burroughs is steadfast in their commitment to Extra Hands for ALS. Students grow up knowing that helping people with ALS is part of the school’s, and their own, culture and identity. To encourage future participation in the group, the school hosts an annual 7th grade project day every December. Approximately 100 students and parent volunteers are involved in that day and actively work in the homes of 10 people with ALS.

The ALS Association has had discussions with John Burroughs and the Extra Hand leaders about how this program can be replicated in other schools, several of which have expressed interest. Such an expansion would further extend the reach and impact of the program in our local community, and possibly beyond.

High school students often get a bad rap. But should you perhaps drive by one later this fall raking leaves, clearing brush, or carrying cleaning supplies, consider that that young adult might just be making a profound difference in the life of a person with ALS. As Jack Orchard so simply and eloquently put it: “We need each other, it’s that simple.” Extra Hand for ALS puts those words into action, with those high school students in the lead.

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