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Expressing their gratitude

Kent ISD — “OK, so we have three packs of ChapSticks,” said Kent Transition Center CORE Instructor Lori Dulak as she held up a package for everyone in the room to see. “Does that mean that we put an entire pack in each bag?”

A resounding “no” came from the students.

“Right, because if we did, we would run out of ChapStick,” Dulak said. “So, we need to make sure to separate the ChapSticks.”

With that, the students in Dulak’s KTC CORE class and KTC’s retail marketing class begin to organize the items: bags and labels on one table, body wash on another, candy bars on a third, ChapStick on the next, cards after that and, finally, label checks and quality control on the last table. 

It was all part of “Operation Gratitude,” a student project that provided 135 goodie bags for residents of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

“It has been pretty fun contributing to the veterans and the community by doing something for the veterans,” said Byron Center’s Nick Evers, who is in the KTC CORE program.

Wyoming junior Breanna Zachary, who is part of the KTC retail marketing program, agreed.

“We are showing a kind of caring and compassion by actually doing this for the veterans,” Breanna said. “It actually has shown me the need to be compassionate and a lot more caring to anyone, and actually help people.”

Kent Transition Center CORE student Jacob Magoon, who is from Rockford, writes in one of the handmade cards he created (courtesy)

Building Character

Operation Gratitude was funded through a Global Youth Service Project grant, made available through the Michigan Community Service Commision in partnership with Youth Service America. Groups received grant funding based on the number of students participating. 

Since Operation Gratitude had 30 students involved, the project received a $250 grant.

“Student participation in this service project helps build character, develops empathy and supports our veterans,” said Dulak, who organized the project. “It allows our students an opportunity to become active members in our community. It also enables students to acquire life skills and awareness of local organizations and community challenges.”

The project allowed students in both classes to collaborate.

“The retail students were involved in the marketing and design of the labels, they helped with the shopping and are learning about the process of an assembly line,” said Kyle Retan, KTC retail marketing instructor. “We often talk to them about how, in the working world, we have to work with different people, and this gives the students the opportunity to do so, along with learning how to be professional.”

Byron Center’s Nick Evers helps with quality control by checking the bag’s tag and making sure all items are included

‘Special Things Just for Them’

The students researched the veterans’ needs and then went shopping for items to put in the goodie bags. In the process, they learned about bulk shopping in order to maximize their $250 from the grant. 

“I think shopping for the veterans was the best part,” Nick said. “It was an opportunity to get some very special things just for them.”

For Forest Hills Northern junior Julia Whittaker, who is in the KTC retail and marketing class, the best part was making cards to go into the bags. The students spent a day collecting leaves, making imprints and then writing special messages to the veterans. 

“I really liked that, because you got to design what the card is going to look like and what you wanted to write,” Julia said. 

For the last day of the project, the students came together to assemble the bags, listening to music and chatting with each other. The original plan had included the students delivering the bags in a special outdoor event for the veterans. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, those delivery plans had to be changed, Dulak said.

But the importance of the project wasn’t lost on the students, even if they didn’t get to hand-deliver their gifts.

“I think it is just a really nice thing for us to do,” Julia said. “We should be thankful for people and help them.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio


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