SUWANEE - On a recent Sunday afternoon, Annandale Village's programs center was abuzz with activity, as groups baked cookies, learned line dances, created a rap and colored decorative frying pans.
The villagers who live in the private nonprofit community for disabled adults were working with seventh- and eighth-graders who attend Notre Dame Academy, a private Catholic school in Duluth. For the second year in a row, the school has partnered with the village so students can complete a service learning project, said Joan Janoszewski, Notre Dame's religion coordinator.
Service learning is a cornerstone of the school, and it helps students learn the Corporal Works of Mercy, which are seven practices of charity, Janoszewski said. Every student who attends the schools - preschoolers through eighth-graders - participates in a service learning project, she said.
"Service learning puts the faces of people on top of the words," she said. "You can learn the words. You can learn fact after fact about Christ. But until you put a face with the words, they are just empty words."
The culmination of this project will be a festival on Jan. 13 at Annandale Village, Janoszewski said. The students and villagers will share the projects they have been working on since October.
Eighth-grader Robert Dukes said the students and villagers develop a list of interests and, based on what they have in common, break into groups to work on different projects. Dukes is in the skit group, which is developing a one-act play based on the Harry Potter stories.
Dukes said he enjoys working with the villagers.
"It gives you that feeling that you know you did something good," he said. "When you leave, you know you did something good."
His classmate, Corey Jones, said the project helps the students and villagers alike.
"It helps us realize everyone is made equal and we can all be friends, no matter what," she said. "It makes them realize they're just like us."
Annandale Village officials talk to the students before the children visit the community, discussing the villagers limitations and expectations, said Nancy Trujillo, the village's director of development.
"We tell the students they have girlfriends and boyfriends, just like they do," she said. "Some days they're in a good mood. Some days they're in a bad mood. They're not all that different. They like to be included.
"They enjoy the interaction," she added. "It gives them the opportunity to try new things."
Villagers make it clear they enjoy it when the children visit.
"You better come back," Timothy, a villager who is in the sports group, said to the students. "I love y'all."
Annandale Village officials asked that villagers be identified only by first name to protect their privacy.
Timothy, who has lived in the community since June, said he enjoys his group because he loves baseball, basketball and kickball.
"They make my day," he said of the students. "They make me feel better towards life, and I like it."
Susan, who has lived at Annandale Village for 17 years, was cheerful as she colored in a decoration she had drawn on a frying pan.
"I love doing this," she said. "It's boring on a Sunday afternoon, and this breaks it up."
But her face crumples when asked how she likes the village.
"It's lonesome," she said. "I have no family here."
Susan said her family lives in Minneapolis, Minn. Although she visits her family, she said she spent Thanksgiving alone at the village. When the students visit, she said she feels less alone.
"I love it," she said. "I look forward to having them come out."