About ten middle school students from St. Michael's School stand in a group, listening intently as Dallas Boies, a vet tech at Hermitage No Kill Cat Shelter, talks about the medical facilities and equipment there.
She shows them a round disc that stores fungal culture used to check for ringworm.
"That's cool and disgusting," one of the students comments. The others laugh.
The students are on a tour of the shelter at the beginning of a service project through their school.
Day of service
The entire middle school of St. Michaels — 113 students, went out in groups of about ten with parent and teacher chaperones to various organizations around Tucson Friday to give back to the community in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
"This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time," said the Reverend Clare Yarborough, chaplain of the school. "It's always bothered me a little bit that the national day of service was the day we had as a holiday. I thought it was great that the parents could do things with their kids that day, but I thought it would be really nice for the school to just go out and do something good for Tucson. So I thought let's see if we can empty out the middle school on the half day before the holiday and do some service."
Other students worked with the Community Food Bank, Tucson Clean and Beautiful, Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, Beads of Courage, Therapeutic Riding of Tucson, Diaper Bank and Casa Alitas.
Community service is not new to the students of St. Michaels, as it is incorporated into the school's programming, but it is the first time the entire middle school went out at the same time to give back to the community through volunteer service, said Margaret Moore, the head of the school.
"Good stewardship in caring for people, for our world, the environment is an important component to our program," Moore said. "In this way we extend the education of our students beyond the academic material taught in the classroom. Reaching out into the community puts substance to the important values we teach on a daily basis."
Hermitage is familiar with the good deeds of St. Michaels students, since many of them have raised money for it by asking for donations instead of birthday presents.
"St. Michaels kids play a big part here and it's great," said Marcella Severson, executive assistant of Hermitage. "They're the next generation of animal advocates...We really appreciate the help and support. They're helping and making an impact in the animal and rescue community."
Doing the work
Boies leads the children to another room.
They're greeted by a huge black and white cat, named Socks, sitting on a case of food.
"This is the diabetic room," Boies says. "Socks here is just fat. He's not diabetic. He is here for the weight management food."
The students laugh and a few girls make friends with the feline.
After showing the kids a glucose monitor and talking about monitoring blood sugar, it's time to get to work.
They're instructed to collect all of the linens in the shelter and put them in trash bags, then clean the cat condos and cat walks with cleanser and towels.
The kids comply joyfully, pairing off with their friends as cats roam about freely, enjoying the extra attention.
Prior to today, students were able to list their top three choices of places to go for community service. Hermitage was the first choice for Camille Marquart, 13, and Adelle Moore, 14. Because, cats.
The two girls work together filling their trash bag with dirty linens.
"I love cats," Camille, an eighth grader, says. "My friends call me C.C., which is Camille Cat. "I like being helpful in the community."
Serena Hsu, a 12-year-old seventh grader works quietly wiping down the catwalks.
She says she was raised doing volunteer work and really likes it. Not to mention, she loves being around cats and dogs.
In another section of the shelter, two boys, Nathan Chabin, 14, and Franklin Von Straalen, 13, work together to clean a cat condo.
Franklin says he's a cat person with four cats at home, so Hermitage was his first choice to volunteer at.
Nathan takes a moment to reflect on why they're there.
"Because it's MLK Day Monday I think it's important to honor what he did for us by doing helpful things in our community," Nathan said.