Mission Ignition was created by students to help ignite a passion for community service and spread it to other schools.

It began when Lusher High School’s Student Government Association partnered with United Way of Southeast Louisiana in 2013 to launch a community service competition. In its third year, Mission Ignition now involves a student leadership board from Benjamin Franklin High School, Lusher Charter School, Thomas Jefferson High School, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy and Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies.

Erin Oakes, a senior from Lusher Charter school, said the competition remains the same, but the number of schools competing has grown.

“Eventually, Mission Ignition could include every high school in the city, then spread around the state and even the country with the help of United Way,” Oakes said.

The United Way’s Mission Ignition student board began meeting in August and chose as this year’s theme, “Passing the Torch — Reaching the Next Generation.” A kick-off rally was recently held at City Park for board members to build enthusiasm to bring back to students at their respective schools.

“Community service is important to me, so when I learned that one of Mission Ignition’s goals is to foster a love of service among teens, I wanted to help make this year’s competition even better and encourage students at my school to participate,” said Jessica Ding, a senior at Haynes Academy.

Students from the five schools can sign up for any of the three Mission project days. Schools with the most service hours at the end of the competition will earn a trophy, bragging rights and celebrate with pizza.

“We’ve used announcements, flyers, and guest speakers to promote the event,” said Julia Rosato, a junior at Patrick F. Taylor. She said the response has been good.

“Everyone is on board. We’re expecting many people from our high school to attend,” she said.

Each Saturday through Feb. 6, students from Lusher, Ben Franklin, Haynes, Patrick F. Taylor and Thomas Jefferson will cleanup, paint and assist in revitalization projects, as well as teach younger students about music, theater, the arts, volleyball, basketball and soccer. Hands On New Orleans, the United Way Volunteer Center, is helping coordinate the projects for Mission Ignition.

Mission 1 is from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Gentilly Terrace Charter School, 4720 Painters St.; Mission 2 is 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at APEX (Always Pursuing Excellence) Youth Center, 2019 Simon Bolivar Ave.; and Mission 3 is 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at McDonogh 32 Literacy Academy, 800 De Armas St., Algiers.

Camly Tram, a senior at Benjamin Franklin, believes students as well as the community can reap benefits from the community service project.

“The most important thing about the three missions is being able to meet people from other high schools. New Orleans has many unique, differentiated neighborhoods, and this is a chance to make connections and create friendships with students all across the city while working towards a common goal,” Tram said.

Social media has also played a part in their outreach, she said.

“Benjamin Franklin High School has primarily drawn upon social media. Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook provide a space to put up important information about Mission Ignition and the individual meetings, while also being able to access a wide audience.”

Last year, the Mission Ignition student volunteers gave 4,000 volunteer hours to make more than $30,000 in improvements at Joe Brown Center in eastern New Orleans and Brechtel Park in Algiers.

“Hopefully, news will travel of our efforts and others will want to join us. If all goes well, Mission Ignition will become a nationwide competition one day, promoting and encouraging the power of community service among teens all over the country,” Thomas Jefferson junior Jenny Ly said.

For information, visit www.uwmissionignition.com or contact Melody Reed at (504) 827-6846 or melodyr@unitedway sela.org.

Sharon Edwards is community news editor for The New Orleans Advocate. Send news for the Crescent City Advocate to crescentcity@theadvocate.com.