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Leading With Care

For one day each December, students in the Crossroads Alternative High School leadership class work in assembly-line format, packing hundreds of items into care bags for people in the community. It’s a culmination of months of work getting donations and support for the project. From shampoo to small toys, items fill the bags, ready for delivery by students who are working to meet people’s basic needs and show them love.

For the past 16 years, teacher Janet Sall’s class has embraced the Care Bag project, gathering, packaging and delivering bags to people at local non-profit organizations, including Holland Rescue Mission, Mel Trotter Ministry, Ronald McDonald House and The Bridge, a residential and counseling program at Arbor Circle. Bags also go to Kentwood Public School’s homeless youth. Last year, they donated 300 bags.

From left, students Shonteonna Dempsey and Ramon Lopez hold care bagsJunior Mayra Cifuentes sees it as going the extra mile to “make someone feel human again. You are giving to someone who doesn’t have much.”

 Years of Giving

Sall, who refers to her students as the “leadership extraordinaire,” started the project on a smaller scale 16 years ago, when a Crossroads student and her son faced homelessness and expressed the kindness they felt in receiving a package, the impact of the project really hit home.

The project has grown over the years, the spirit of giving becoming part of the culture of the school and district, she said. Items are donated by many businesses and people, and the class has received grants from the Kent ISD and other sources. They also use the class Leadership Activity Fund to purchase items. Students contribute, too.

Packages, customized for men, women and children, include things like shampoo, conditioner, combs, deodorant, tissues and other personal care items. Sall sets bags aside for homeless Crossroads students. “We can really build beautiful bags,” she said.

An Extra Special Touch

Senior Ramon Lopez’ contributes through his artwork. His sketch of a heart with the words “You are loved” nestled in two hands will be added to care packages. His goal is to convey comfort and warmth to people facing difficult times. “I can only imagine what they are going through,” he said.

Senior Shonteonna Dempsey said it feels good to help out. “I really like doing it,” she said. “You don’t know how many people at school are going through that.

Growing Leaders

Students interview for a spot in Leadership class, an elective, and Sall said taking part is often life-changing for them. Some students remain involved every year they attend Crossroads and then begin careers in public service. “These are awesome kids,” Sall said, noting the turnaround she sees as students step up with integrity and dedication.

She’s seen students go from extremely quiet to being able to lead presentations. Some have served on local councils and as co-chairs and board members of the Michigan Alternative Education Organization’s Student Leadership Board. Ramon and Shonteonna are seeking election as co-chairs for the board in November.

Students lead many other projects that have altruistic angles. They include the Literacy for Life project which collects books for kindergarten through second-grade students at Kentwood’s Bowen, Townline and Meadowlawn elementary schools, a coat drive for Degage Ministries, blood drives and other projects.

Senior Ramon Lopez creates sketches to add to care bags for people in the community“Everything we do in this class has meaning and significance,” Sall said.

To donate to the Care Bag project, contact janet.sall@kentwoodps.org or drop items off at the school, 28 60th St. SE. Supplies are needed by Dec. 12 for delivery Dec. 19.

CONNECT

Care Bag Project Video

Kentwood Public Schools

Michigan Altenative Education Organization

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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