High school students spread kindness through service to larger community

First year for out-of-school activities

Senior Brooklyn Graham colors with Alice Curtis as part of TK’s Day of Service

Walking through the halls of Thornapple Kellogg High School on a recent Friday, things seemed quieter than usual. But open up a classroom door or take a drive through Middleville — a much different story.

More than 900 TK high school students participated in the district’s annual School Service Day. Students worked on philanthropic projects in the school and, for the first time, were physically present out in the community.

“Typically we had agencies come to the school and only had sessions here in the building,” Principal Tony Peterson said prior to the event. “This year, we are sending kids off on a new adventure. We have a variety of projects that half the kids are going out into the community to work on.”

From volunteering at nursing homes to working with students at local elementary schools and making stickers for patients at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, students were kept busy during the sixth annual day of service.

Two TK students roll around in human hamster balls at the schoolwide celebration after volunteering around the community

“This gives them the opportunity to learn about giving back and a way to say thank you to the community for all that they do for us,” Peterson said. “It helps them to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

“It’s not about them today; it’s about learning to give to others and what that looks like.”

TK received a couple of grants to help cover costs of service day including the speaker and work supplies. The grants were received from the Youth Advisory Council of the Barry Community Foundation and the Thornapple Enrichment Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation.

Usually held before the end of first semester, the day of service was moved to fit in with the school calendar, creating new, outdoor opportunities for students.

One of the most popular activities was the rock-painting session that was part of the Kindness Rocks Project

Kindness Rocks

One of the most popular sessions focused on the national “Kindness Rocks Project,” which encourages people to leave painted rocks with inspiring messages around their community.

Surrounded by buckets of paint and blank rock canvasses, students set out to create their own messages of kindness.

Senior Zeremi Akkus decided to choose particularly vibrant colors for her rock.

“Days like today are a good thing because they are an opportunity to give back and get the younger generation involved,” Zeremi said.

All of the rocks made by students will be placed around the community and among other schools in the district.

One session taught students how to make homemade dog toys to donate to local animal shelters

Comfort for Veterans

The Snuggli Quilters, a group of quilters from Middleville United Methodist Church, also made an appearance to oversee students making sleeping bags for the homeless. For the past 10 years, the group has made sleeping bags from donated materials and given them to veterans homes. Their handiwork has made it as far as places like Chicago and Washington.

“When you watch these kids working, they’re focused, “ said Francy Tobin, a member of Snuggli Quilters. “They’re not on their phones or goofing around, they are really working.”

‘Days like today are a good thing because they are an opportunity to give back and get the younger generation involved.’ — senior Zeremi Akkus

Having attended Student Service Day for many years, Tobin said the coolest thing about working with high schoolers is seeing students who have never sewn before help make sleeping bags.

“We normally have 75 kids working in a day,” Tobin said. “That’s a lot of helpers.”

Tooth Fairy

With Dwayne Johnson’s rendition of “The Tooth Fairy” playing in the background, some students chose to decorate bags for elementary students who lose teeth at school. Armed with construction paper, felt and glitter, junior Asia Wickett played on her elementary memories for her bag design.

“I remember when I would lose teeth,” Asia said. “My sister loses teeth at school and she’s always finding something random to keep her teeth in until she gets home.

“I think it will be really cool for kids to pick out a fun bag.”

Next year, the hope is for bigger and better.

“We plan to continue this event next year and look for ways to make it even more fun and rewarding for students and for our community,” Peterson said.

A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio.

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