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Last Friday was Sacred Heart Academy's seventh annual Day of Sharing, a day when students volunteer at various sites around the Buffalo area. For the past seven years, students have taken a day off in April to spend time working in the community; this year, more than 500 people -- students, parents, faculty and alumnae -- spent the day volunteering at 48 sites around Western New York. Every student is required to participate and cannot go to the same site twice in her four years. The goal is to help students step outside their comfort zones and discover new ways and places to serve in the community.

Students volunteered at parks, schools, soup kitchens, nursing homes, thrift stores, animal shelters and hospitals. This year, more than 20 girls went to Weinberg Campus, an apartment complex in Amherst for senior citizens. One of these students was Katrina Flagler, a freshman who said that her first Day of Sharing was a very positive experience. She spent the day talking and playing games with residents.

"We played checkers and did trivia games, and visited some of the people in their rooms," she said. "I really liked hearing what they had to say."

Katrina said that the Day of Sharing has spurred her and some of her friends to start volunteering at Weinberg Campus on bingo nights.

Theresa Roth had a much different experience from those who went to Weinberg -- she was one of many groups of students who spent the day outside, cleaning up various parks. Theresa, a junior, chose to volunteer at Reinstein Woods, a nature preserve in Cheektowaga. She said her day outside was a learning experience. Students who went to Reinstein Woods spent hours learning about the environment as they picked weeds of mustard garlic, an invasive species in our area.

For Theresa, it was a day to help the community while spending time with friends.

"We had a lot of fun," she said. "And we picked over a hundred pounds of weeds, so we could actually see that we were making a difference."

Many students chose to visit sites that help the sick or needy.

Junior Christina Bavisotto volunteered at Hope Lodge, a home for cancer patients who are receiving treatment in Buffalo. She liked knowing that her work was going to have a direct impact on the people there.

"I left feeling like we accomplished a lot, so it was rewarding," she said.

Another junior, Therese Mastrandrea, spent the day at City Mission, sorting clothing donations for the organization's thrift store with three other students. In the past, Therese has spent the Day of Sharing volunteering with children, working at the Cantalician Center in ninth grade, and at Rainbow K School in 10th. However, she said that her day at City Mission was just as rewarding as helping children. She said that it felt good to help the community because the people she met were so appreciative.

For many girls, the Day of Sharing is an opportunity to find new places to volunteer. Meghan Hodson, a junior who also volunteered at City Mission, said that her experience at the Powerful Literacy Center last year led her to start volunteering there on a regular basis. She said that she did not know about the organization before she went there last year but liked it so much that she decided to work there over the summer. For this reason, she says that the Day of Sharing is a unique event that allows students to branch out and discover new ways to help their community.

"I think it's a great opportunity," she says. "It's not just one day -- it exposes you to places that you haven't heard of before, and gives you the chance to start really making a difference."

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Meredith McCaffrey is a junior at Sacred Heart Academy.