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Give a Bit of Labor, Get a Life Lesson


“Kids Helping Kids” was the theme for sixth graders at Duncan Lake Middle School this year, and that’s just what happened at Family Promise and In the Image.

“We kind of live in a little bit of a bubble here, so it is good for these kids to see how fortunate they are,” said sixth-grade teacher Judy Cizauskas of the Caledonia Community Schools area.

Family Promise helps homeless families with emergency shelter and housing. In the Image provides furniture, appliances, clothing and other items to people in need.

“Children learned about homelessness, and we got so much out of it,” sixth-grade teacher Paul Nixon said. “I feel it’s the most relevant (service-learning project) they’ve ever done.”

When the Caledonia students visited the nonprofit’s headquarters in Grand Rapids in May, they cleaned up the lawn and playroom, organized office cupboards, books and the kitchen, and even baked cookies to be used as thank-yous for church volunteers. It wasn’t on their to-do list, but they also stepped up to organize a wall of shoes when they saw none of them were with their mates.

“It was little things they (the organizations) don’t get time to do because they’re helping families,” Cizauskas said of the work.

♥Students were worried about the kids getting to school and how they got food, Cizauskas said. “They didn’t know about any of this,” she said. “They were flabbergasted at the number of homeless. Their perception was ‘I thought they were hobos. I thought they were bums.’ ”

Sixth-grade teacher Rory Sanford said the experience was “eye-opening” for students. “They’ve done a variety of helping projects,” she said, “but this one just blew me away.”

When the school year ended and the class made its “Top 10 Things About Sixth Grade” lists, more than half of the students put the Family Promise visit on their lists.

After seeing what the two nonprofits do, many students said they wanted to help beyond the service learning activity, Nixon said, asking if they could bring their parents to the Grand Rapids location. “There will be a lot of kids there with moms and dads,” Nixon said. “This is the way this community works.”

Earlier in the year at In the Image, students stocked shelves, unloaded food and watched people shop.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Nixon said. They got a little bit of labor, and we got a life lesson.”

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.

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