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Learning Leadership through Volunteering, Competing

For East Kentwood High School seniors, serving residents cake and ice cream for Christmas at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans was much more meaningful than just completing an assignment for class.

A student cleans the Kentwood Fire Station, where one group donated time
A student cleans the Kentwood Fire Station, where one group donated time

“They were really happy because they don’t get many visitors,” said senior Coriona Smith, a cadet with the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps who plans to join the Navy after graduation. “It made me really happy to give back to those who gave back to country.”

Coriona’s passion for community service was infectious for fellow seniors who participated in the East Kentwood Advanced Teen Leadership version of 5×5, modeled after ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos’s competition. DeVos challenges people to present five slides for five minutes about their new art project, business concept or entrepreneurial idea to five judges for a $5,000 prize.

Leadership course teacher Melissa Trombley, a fan of the DeVos competition, adapted the idea into her own contest to promote innovative thinking, service learning, teamwork leadership and presentation skills.

A student sorts shoes
A student sorts shoes

“Our whole class is built around leadership, interpersonal skills, working with people and values,” Trombley said.

Paying it Forward

For the past three years, she’s challenged the class to volunteer in groups of five for five hours. They then give five-minute presentations using five slides to a panel of five judges. The award is five $10 bills from Trombley, to be donated to the organization where the winning group volunteered. (This year a judge also donated $20.)

Students wash the Kentwood Fire Station's emergency vehicles
Students wash the Kentwood Fire Station’s emergency vehicles

Teacher Joe Pellerito, who’s also teaching Advanced Teen Leadership this year, led a 4×4 contest. Four seniors in each group performed four hours of volunteer work together, presented four minute-presentations with four slides to four judges, and earned four $25 bills to donate.

Judges included local business owners, educators and professionals including Kentwood Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff. Students had to organize their schedules in order to volunteer together, make contacts, plan the project and present in a professional manner.

A student holds up donated items at Mel Trotter Ministry
A student holds up donated items at Mel Trotter Ministry

The Veterans Home group won the prize in Trombley’s class. In Pellerito’s, the winning group volunteered at Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Grand Rapids, cleaning and folding donated clothes for people in need.

“It made me feel like even though we did little things, we can help people a lot,” said group member William Matthews.

Groups also volunteered at In the Image, the Kentwood Fire Department, Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center charter school, Mel Trotter Ministries, Oak Crest Communities retirement home, Kids’ Food Basket and Focus Kalamazoo.

The girls donated stuffed animals for firefighters to give to children
The girls donated stuffed animals for firefighters to give to children

The experience had a lasting impact on senior Alexis Fricke. She was so touched by the residents at Oak Crest that she decided to continue volunteering every Sunday. When her group played Skipbo and Bingo with the residents and heard their stories, Alexis said she was brought to tears.

“They were super happy we were there, and said it’s nice to see new faces,” she said.


Devos’ 5×5 contest

Read the whole Student Leaders series
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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


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