A carnival on the Lee High School lawn bustled with happy neighborhood children, while a couple blocks away drivers handed over donations for charity to have their cars scrubbed. Neighbors were surprised when students stopped by to paint their fences and mow their lawns and remove graffiti.
During the week of service, Lee High School students offered helping hands and open hearts, creating smiles across the city of Wyoming and beyond. Ninety percent of the school’s ninth through 11th graders worked to help others, rather than spending the first week of summer vacation relaxing.
“People know what school we come from and they know we care about the community,” said student Jacquie Diaz, while ushering cars in to get washed.
The program, Rebel Hearts, is in its third year. It took a different shape than the first two years, which focused on enrichment of core classes like history and science. “This time it was all about reaching out and giving back,” said Jake Manning, student advocate.
The program is funded through a School Improvement Grant, allocated by the Michigan Department of Education.
The 275 ninth- through 11th grade students planned projects in groups of 16 and chose group names like “Rebel Love” and “Team Da-Fence” (the fence painters).
“It says a lot to have 90 percent of them involved,” Manning said.
Students earned half of an elective credit for participating. Outreach not only focused on the immediate neighborhood, but also supported local causes and organizations including D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Principal Kathryn Curry said the community involvement helps students develop their leadership and cooperation skills, but it’s about much more than that. “The main reason is about giving back to your community no matter what your circumstances are. No matter what you have you can always give your time,” she said.
Manning said he sees students really learning what it’s like to make a difference. “It’s a pretty cool experience,” he said.
A Fun Way to Help
The carnival, which supported Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, was busy as children played games, ate cotton candy, attempted to submerge their favorite teachers in a dunk tank and played in a bounce house.
Students Brandon Mendez and Karla Martinez ran a carnival game, handing visitors stuffed animals to launch into a basket. “It feels really good to help. I like the cause we are working for, to help kids in need,” Brandon said. “We really like to give back.”
“This is a nice way to have the community come out and help people in need,” added Karla.
Student Uriel Duran worked with his group raking, mowing and trimming trees. Homeowners came out to show their gratitude. “It gives you a sense of pride knowing you can make a difference like that,” he said.
Student Zach Esparza agreed. “We might as well be doing something that will benefit others instead of staying home and doing nothing.”
Superintendent David Britten stopped for a car wash. “It speaks well of our students. A lot of them come from needy households themselves, but they are always willing to step up,” he said.