North Pointe Center class partners with church for cemetery cleanup project

DOWAGIAC — A local school class is making sure the Calvary Cemetery stays in top shape for visitors.

North Pointe Center transition services teacher Tracy Sanders and her class have partnered with Holy Maternity of Mary on a volunteer project to beautify the church-run cemetery.

Located at 704 Orchard St., Dowagiac, North Pointe Center serves older students with moderate to severe disabilities. Through the program, students learn life skills and how to function within the community.

“We work on life skills, work skills and job trials to be used in the community,” Sanders said. “We’re focused on getting them ready for the rest of their life.”

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic closing businesses and organizations that Sanders’ class would normally volunteer with, Sanders said that a parent suggested a scavenger hunt at Calvary Cemetery, which is located near the school.

“Students had to find someone who lived to be more than 100, someone with the same last name as them, a specific year, and so on,” Sanders said.

While conducting the scavenger hunt, Sanders and her students noticed that some gravesites had been neglected over the years.

“We thought we had time we aren’t using,” Sanders said. “So we can use that time to make the gravesites look better.”

According to Sanders, one of the scavenger huntquestions was how old the cemetery is. After conducting some research online, Sanders and her class learned that Holy Maternity founded it.

“We asked the church if we could take care of the gravesites, and they agreed to let us,” Sanders said. “We asked our supervisor to purchase buckets, gloves, brooms and brushes to clean the gravestones.”

Sanders said her students are enjoying the project.

“They really like it,” she said. ” We have all different types of students. Some are not used to getting dirty, but a lot of them like being outside and feeling like they’re doing something important, something with meaning. It wasn’t just to kill time. We were doing this to honor the people in the cemetery.”

The class will be going over weekly to work on the project. After working on three rows of gravestones this week, Sanders acknowledged that her class is in it for the long haul.

“We plan on doing this as long as we can,” she said. “We’ll continue until the snow picks up and we plan on picking it back up in the spring. We’re teaching students about giving back. The community does a lot for us. We’re showing that, even with disabilities, our students can still give back to the community.”

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