Lesson in giving
Eighth grader Abby Willmore squeezed the teddy bear close Monday before setting it in a blue bag decorated with pictures of sports equipment. In went a blanket, a coloring book, crayons and a toothbrush kit.
"Today we’re designing these Sweet Cases for foster children, because usually they just get a garbage bag or two to put their stuff in and this makes it a little more, I don’t know, better for them to carry their stuff in," said her classmate Logan Williams as he added a bright red skull to the side of his bag.
All day, eighth-graders in Superior Middle School’s red wing designed and packed Sweet Cases. The project provided 62 of the bags to Douglas County Health and Human Services for children going into the foster care system. It began in Amanda Lindquist’s English class.
"We were learning about genocides, like we’ve been talking about the Rwandan genocide and how horrible that was and then Mrs. Lindquist challenged us to do something good for our community and this is one of the ideas we came up with," Willmore said." And the more we talked about it, the more everybody started to like it."
Referencing their fall classes on journalism, students wrote a press release for the Sweet Cases fundraiser kickoff in April. Another teen wrote a letter directly to Kwik Trip and received $200. Thanks to the publicity, people stopped by the office to donate money, online donations poured in, the school district administration office collected $200 for the cause.
"It was amazing how many people helped us out," said Niya Wilson.
One day after opening the online donation site, they had reached their goal of $300. So they increased it again, and again. In the end, they collected roughly $1,700.
"I’m super-excited," Lindquist said. "I’m glad that they got on board with this project and that they actually followed through on it. It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something. It’s another thing to actually do it. But they took it and they ran with it and here we are, 62 cases."
Monday, they personalized the bags with colorful stencils and individual letters.
"Superman and Wonder Woman care about you and so do I," wrote Wilson, who decorated her bag with superhero logos. "You are super!"
Rhiana Ormston put pictures of a microphone and boom box on her bag.
"A lot of times I know if a kid’s feeling really lonely then they’ll listen to music," the eighth grader said. "I know like when you’re alone, it really helps and it makes you feel there’s really someone there, like someone who actually cares."
Not only do these kids care, they decided to show it.
"They were pretty enthralled with the idea of giving back to someone else," Lindquist said.
After brainstorming their list of ideas to help the community, the students focused on two — Sweet Cases and visiting senior citizens at Lighthouse of Superior May 25.
The teens set up a floor hockey game between Lighthouse residents using pool noodles and buckets,and topped it off with a round of "Jeopardy."
"They are brutal competitors," said Cammi Vandenberg.
Although she’d visited Lighthouse before, the teen had never connected with residents like that. She enjoyed talking with them, seeing "how funny they were, how well they got along with each other."
Vandenberg enjoyed it so much, she plans to return.
"I would like to go back over to Lighthouse and help, like a couple friends and I would love to do that," she said. "And just going out and doing stuff in the community, especially for people in need."
The projects left students empowered.
"Mrs. Lindquist helped us a lot, showing us we’re not powerless," Wilson said. "No matter how old or young you are, you can make a difference."
"If you really want to do something you can do it and you can make a change and it’s just showing that even if you’re young you’re still able to do stuff," Vandenberg said.
The fact that they took the reins was key.
"It wasn’t just me doing it, it was them doing it," Lindquist said. "And then figuring out, once you get your name out there and once you get people excited about it, good things happen."
A list of the students’ ideas hung on the back wall of Lindquist’s room Monday — a clothing drive, a food drive, sending bottled water to Flint, Mich., helping at the animal shelter, six million compliments, care packages for the homeless. Summer vacation has begun, but this lesson in change isn’t restricted to the classroom.
"There’s a lot of options and there’s a lot of things there we can do on our own," Wilson said.