The fourth-graders at St. Stephen Elementary School walked down Russellville Road earlier this month two-by-two with crafts and books in hand. Their mission: to simply brighten the day of the residents at the Lake Moultrie Nursing Facility.

These St. Stephen Elementary students were among 4,000 youths participating in Trident United Way’s Tricounty Youth Service Day. Some groups completed their projects during April but many will serve Friday. This initiative is part of Global Youth Service Day.

Sally Burnett, community volunteer coordinator for Trident United Way, said the students cover the tri-county area and learn leadership and teamwork and connect to their communities.

“They are an important part of something bigger,” Burnett said.

Tara Smith, a student support specialist with Communities in Schools, works with students at St. Stephen Elementary on character development and social responsibility. She said she wanted the students to volunteer at the nursing home to learn “empathy, sympathy and respect for others, no matter their abilities.”

These are all values they have focused on throughout the school year. She also said it was something they could do in their own community.

Diane Gourdine, activities assistant at the nursing facility, said there are 78 residents in the home, and they have several daily activities. But having the 48 students there to read and interact with them brought a whole new level of excitement.

“It means a lot to the residents and staff because it boosts the residents’ morale. Children have so much energy,” Gourdine said.

Fourth-grader Nukell Moore said he was a bit apprehensive to visit a nursing home for the first time because he did not know what to expect. But once he was there, that all went away.

“I just want to help them feel better and cheer them up,” he said.

But the children weren’t the only special guests. Healing Species, a student intervention program that uses therapy with rescued dogs to overcome violence, bullying and abuse, brought along two dogs.

Healing Species coordinator Nadeije Ahearn said they have been working with the students at St. Stephen Elementary to teach values like responsibility and empathy.

“We teach the kids to give love,” she said. She added that they use dogs that have been abandoned to demonstrate that their circumstances don’t have to control their lives.

At the end of the day, Smith led a group discussion so the students could share what they learned.

The students said the best part of the visit was making the residents happy. The majority of the students raised their hands when asked if they wanted to do it again.

“Even though it was a day event, our goal is to teach lifelong qualities for when they become adults,” Smith said.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.