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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Rona Tarr square dances with Juan Diego High School senior Nikolas Santiago at the Sandy Senior Citizens Center in Sandy on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

SANDY — High school seniors from Juan Diego Catholic High School skipped their first week of school in 2019 — and not for the typical reason one might think.

The 213 seniors are spending the week after the holiday break participating in various service projects across Salt Lake County.

Four of those Juan Diego seniors could be found at the Sandy Senior Center.

"They're a godsend," said Ed Fox, janitorial assistant for the center.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Juan Diego High School seniors Lindsey Holly and Grace Anglesey laugh with Edward Fox while volunteering in the thrift store at the Sandy Senior Citizens Center in Sandy on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

The students helped with maintenance, completing multiple projects including washing all the windows in the 22,000-square-foot building and reorganzing the cafeteria storage space.

Fox, 82, said he has a good rapport with the "kids." The students agreed.

"Ed likes to tell us what to do and we like to tell him what we think we should do," said Grace Anglesey, one of Juan Diego's student-volunteers.

Dave Brunetti, director of Juan Diego campus life, said he hoped students become engaged with the service project.

“They can become a part of the cultures and communities they’re working in," said Brunetti said. "They develop relationships with the people they’re working with.”

This has been the case for the Sandy Senior Center volunteers.

Lindsey Holly said she enjoyed making new relationships with the senior citizens.

One of the center's members, Ana Linauna, knitted headbands for Anglesey and Holly.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Juan Diego High School senior Easton Rex brings a trash can back inside after taking out the trash while volunteering at the Sandy Senior Citizens Center in Sandy on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

"I love them," Linauna said. "They are good help. I love them like my children."

All four students at the Sandy center said their favorite part of the experience was the opportunity to interact with another generation.

"You would never expect them to be so relatable, but they are," Anglesey said.

Easton Rex, another Juan Diego volunteer, said he loved talking to the center's patrons.

"It's been really cool for me just getting to know the seniors and getting to hear their life stories," Rex said.

While the students do get to spend a week outside the classroom, some said they're more tired after a full day volunteering than after a full day of school.

"It's not an extra week of vacation," said Nikolas Santiago. "You still have to work hard but we're still having fun at the same time."

Charles Otis, Sandy Senior Center manager, said he hoped the students enjoy being at the center as much as the senior citizens enjoy having them there.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Rona Tarr square dances with Juan Diego High School senior Nikolas Santiago at the Sandy Senior Citizens Center in Sandy on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

"Our goal was to give them a variety of experiences," Otis said. "It's a great service to us."

As part of the volunteer experience, the students participate in a variety of classes offered by the center, from ballroom dancing to tai chi.

"Now they'll know about tai chi for the rest of their lives and maybe not wait until they're 60 to take it up," Otis said.

Beyond cleaning windows and taking classes, the students also helped moderate the center's bingo game — which was no easy feat.

"It was a very high-stress situation," Anglesey said, laughing.

Rex said the players weren't shy about when they thought the students had called a number wrong.

"The seniors really appreciate having high school students at the center doing something productive," Otis said.

April van der Sluys, volunteer coordinator for Juan Diego High School, said a goal of the service project is that students learn from it.

“We’re really hoping that this will push them a little bit out of their comfort zone," van der Sluys said. "When they are pushed, they learn.”

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Barbara Franz, a member of the senior center and the center's thrift shop coordinator, said she wished the students could stay longer.

"My only regret is they're only here for one week," Franz said. "But we'll take what we can get."

The Salt Lake Veteran's Home, the Utah AIDS Foundation and the Utah Food Bank are among the 30 other locations the high school seniors volunteered at this week.

Correction: An earlier version reported 113 students participated in service projects. There were 213 students involved.