Just before 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, Mardi Erickson escorts a group of teens up the steps of the Watts House Pioneer Museum.
It's a school day, but the trip isn't a field trip and the kids aren't playing hooky. They're here to help.
The students are with Scappoose Academy, an Oregon Outreach private alternative school. Each student is required to complete 60 hours of volunteer time with a local organization before graduation. The Watts House has become a regular stop for the teens.
"We're in half a modular building most of the day," Erickson says, noting the importance of allowing her students to get out of the classroom and into the community.
"We do this to get out and know the community members and elders," Erickson says. "There's a connection here."
Erickson knows not every student thrives in a traditional high school environment. She says the volunteer requirement is an important component, but it's done in a manageable way.
"We do the volunteer work as a class all year long," Erickson notes. "For them to go out into the community, they just freeze up," she says. "Some of our kids have social anxiety."
Erickson wanted to find a way for the Academy students to volunteer on a regular basis with an organization that might otherwise be overlooked by schools.
She reached out to the Scappoose Historical Society, which oversees the old Victorian home that is now a museum in Scappoose.
Historical Society volunteers welcomed the help of young volunteers, who have moved furniture around, carried boxes and other large items up and down the narrow stairways of the old home, helped decorate for the home's annual Christmastime decoration showcase, tidied up, and helped with other miscellaneous tasks when needed.
In all, 19 students in grades 9-12 have shown up regularly to help at the Watts House. Each volunteer session is a history lesson for the students, who admit they don't recognize some of the antique items in the home.
"Downstairs, we saw a bell-shaped thing," Lisa Salcedo recalls. "It's actually to hold down horses."
Salcedo calls the Watts House a "dream home," and her peers share her appreciation for its history.
"It's unique. It shows a lot of past history, things that are untouched," Megan Moses adds. She and her classmates revel at old food boxes and labels, all at least 40 years old, along with utensils and books they've stumbled across while transporting items to and from the home's basement.
Mike Turner, an instructor with Scappoose Academy, watches as students form a circle in a sitting room. The students expected to remove curtains from the windows today, but Historical Society volunteers are preparing for an upcoming event at the Watts House and have dictated the lace curtains should stay up. Instead, the students reflect on their year of volunteer work. Many of them will graduate this month. Some say they wouldn't have made it to graduation if not for the Academy.
Karen Holmberg, a Historical Society member and avid Watts House volunteer, says later this month the Historical Society will host a barbecue at the museum for the student volunteers to show appreciation for their help this past school year.
She says the students have helped with tasks that often pose physical strain on some of the museum's senior volunteers.
"They have been only a phone call away, and have given so much effort to the Historical Society," Holmberg notes.