The cafeteria of Joplin’s Salvation Army headquarters is a flurry of activity on this Tuesday morning.

High-school students from around the area are busy stocking the pantry, sorting through loaves of bread to be distributed to people in need, painting and helping with general upkeep tasks. Down the street, another group is busy sorting through piles of clothing that will be sold in the organization’s thrift shop.

Participants in Missouri Southern's Upward Bound program sort clothing during a volunteer work day at the Salvation Army.

Participants in Missouri Southern’s Upward Bound program sort clothing during a volunteer work day at the Salvation Army.

A third group is delivering food baskets to residents in Baxter Springs, Kan.

“We do volunteer work every year,” says Ailan Eldred, a Joplin High School senior in his second year of Upward Bound. “It really helps us when we’re looking for colleges. It’s pretty good brownie points.”

Community service is only one component of Upward Bound, a federal program that targets potential first generation-college students and helps them develop the skills necessary to make a successful transition into college. It has been offered at Missouri Southern State University for 12 years.

The program extends invitations to students who meet the necessary criteria and are capable of going on to college.

“They’re first-generation students who don’t know about the application process and have parents that think they can’t afford to send them to college and don’t know about financial aid or scholarship searches,” says Robin Hicklin, director of the Missouri Southern program. “We have an ACT prep class. They take a practice test at the end of it to see how they’re growing and what we need to continue working on.”

For the last five weeks, more than 60 area high-school students lived in the Southern dorms as they attended classes and ACT prep sessions as part of the College Simulation Experience.

“We stayed in McCormick Hall … living in the dorms has been something different,” says Eldred. “All of the classes have been interesting and the teachers are awesome. I’ve made a lot of new friends and kept up with old ones.”

Upward Bound volunteers stocked the Salvation Army's food pantry this week.

Upward Bound volunteers stocked the Salvation Army’s food pantry this week.

A dozen students graduated this summer from the Bridge program – which allows Upward Bound participants who have graduated from high school to take college classes for credit during the summer session.

On July 14, the Upward Bound participants will travel to New Orleans for five days.

“A lot of kids (in the program) are limited in their exposure to what’s out there,” says Hicklin, adding that past trips have included visits to St. Louis, Chicago and Orlando. “It’s a cultural trip. The idea is for them to broaden their horizons and see that there’s more out there than just Southwest Missouri.”

Taking a break from sorting through clothing donated to the Salvation Army’s thrift store, Winona Longcarich says she’s enjoyed the two years she’s spent in Southern’s Upward Bound program. And she’s not the first person in her family to have benefitted from it.

“Both of my sisters went through it and it helped them out a lot,” she says. “It’s an experience no one else will give you. All of (the students) have the same background. It’s like a family and helps keep us on track.”