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MATTOON — Myra Chavez said she saw the need for a little attention at times when she walked in Peterson Park in Mattoon.

That came to be on Friday, when she and 15 other Mattoon High School students spent time sprucing up the landscaped area on the park's west side known as the Sims Memorial.

It was part of Chavez's and her classmates' larger plans for the area, though the main focus of Friday's effort was to be part of the high school's second annual volunteer service day.

"It's to give back to the community and make people happy," said Chavez, an MHS junior.

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The Green & Gold Day, as it's been named, saw MHS students venture out to more than 30 locations across Coles County to take part in a variety of volunteer activities.

At Peterson Park, MHS special education teacher Aaron Black explained how his students decided on the project on which they wanted to work and made arrangements with city officials to make it happen.

"I said, 'What do you guys want to do?'" Black said. "They're doing a great job."

The same group of students worked in the same location last year during the inaugural Green & Gold Day, painting the park's benches. Black said this year's approach allowed the students to have "more of their voice in it."

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In addition to working on the area's landscaping, Chavez said, the students' plans include adding a memorial marker to the area in honor of Dominic Walker, an MHS student who died recently.

Friday's volunteer sites included several school district locations as well as several in the community, such as the park, nursing homes, and charitable and public service organizations.

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At the Coles County Fairgrounds in Charleston, members of the MHS football team and other students, just more than 100 in all, returned to continue painting work in the grounds' livestock barns.

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The work a year ago helped improve the fairgrounds' appearance and "brought people together" as well, MHS senior Caden Price said.

"It's a good cause," he said. "It's something we need to to do, help other people."

Classmate and football teammate Caymon Lopez agreed and said the efforts can sometimes lead to unexpected benefits. The Coles County Fair Board made a donation to the MHS football program after last year's work, he said.

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"It's nice to get together as a school and a team to help out when we can," Lopez said.

MHS head football coach Troy Johnson said the students enjoyed the "fun day" of helping and their work can turn into a life lesson as well.

"Some of them have never painted before," he said. "It's a learning experience."

All of the high school's approximately 1,000 students were to take part in the volunteer activities Friday to show them life is "full of experiences" and give them opportunities, MHS Principal Rich Stuart said.

"It's to facilitate one of the most important lessons: helping others," he said.

Stuart praised the school's students and staff and said he knew they'd do well "if we put them in the right position." The response to last year's event was "overwhelming" and the plan all along was to make it an annual event, he said.

Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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