WASHINGTON — Volunteering has become a way of life of Washington Community High School marching band members.

After compiling nearly 3,200 volunteer hours last school year, the first year of an organized effort, the 230-member band has a goal of 3,500 hours this school year. As of early this month, the total had reached almost 2,100 hours.

"Why not aim high?" said band director Jim Tallman about his decision to increase the goal. "Plus, we have about 20 more students in the band this year compared to last year."

It was Tallman's idea to start the volunteering program.

"I kept seeing stories in the news about high school groups doing volunteer work, so I thought, we could do that," he said. "We could give back to the community for all the support we receive from it, and help those who are less fortunate.

"Also, I always tell our band members that if I had a choice of them being a better band member or a better all-around person, I would choose the latter. It's important for students to incorporate volunteerism as a part of their lives. They'll learn that volunteering can be fun and enriching."

Some volunteer opportunities are passed along to band members by Tallman and assistant band director Lisa Parrott. Band members themselves also come up with ideas.

Each band member is asked to volunteer 15 hours in a school year. That's how Tallman comes up with the band goal.

Band president Emily Grugan said she thinks about 75 percent of band members achieve the 15-hour goal. Band members can put in the hours with other band members or on their own.

"Some people go way beyond the 15 hours because of what they do outside of band," Grugan said.

When band members volunteer together, it's usually a section that does it.

For example, the percussion section has put together Tender Mercies meal packets at the Midwest Food Bank location in Peoria and prepared and served meals at Peoria Rescue Ministries.

Senior Ella Boston, a four-year band member in the drum line, was the percussion section leader last fall.

She's been an active volunteer for several years, working as a Sunday school helper at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Washington, with special-needs children in an exercise program at Five Points Washington, at middle school band camps in Washington, and at UnityPoint Health-Proctor Hospital in Peoria.

"I've made some great relationships and I've grown as a person through volunteering, and volunteering keeps me centered," Boston said.

Grugan, a senior who played baritone sax in the band for four years, also has been an active volunteer. For example, she put in 96 volunteer hours the last two summers at UnityPoint Health-Methodist Hospital in Peoria.

Volunteer hours also have been compiled by band members at fundraising events for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, working as peer mentors for special-needs actors in Penguin Project productions, helping kindergartners with science experiments, packing school supply boxes and doing trail maintenance for the Peoria Area Mountain Bike Association.

Band members also have worked as volunteers for the Washington Park District, at Good Neighbor Days and at nursing homes and the Peoria Zoo.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.