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Washing service offers loads of help

Students hone skills, provide valuable assistance

Forest Hills — Alex Roy and Jonah Boruki worked together recently to fill a washing machine in their Eastern High School classroom with a special load: jackets worn by the school’s track team members. 

How much liquid detergent to add? “It goes to ‘max,’” said Jonah as he pointed to a line indicator inside the dispenser.

“I think it needs more,” Alex pointed out. “Let me help you.”

Once washed, the pair and their classmates would transfer them to the dryer, then carefully fold and place them in large plastic tubs organized by size.

The jacket project was a variation to the wash cycle they have mastered; since the start of the semester they collect, wash and deliver fresh towels to physical education locker rooms at the school five days a week.

After starting the load of jackets, Alex and Jonah delivered a cart filled with fresh, white towels to a table inside the gymnasium. Donning gloves, they transferred a full bin of soiled ones into a plastic bag, loaded it onto the cart and headed back to class.

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PE teacher Ian Hearn and ASD teacher Chris Thomas worked together to create the towel program, which kicked off in January.

Thomas said monetary donations paid for a new washing machine and dryer, new towels were donated and cash donations from some students who will use the towels over the semester helps pay for supplies.

‘They had a unique need, we had a need here, and they formed a business where we were their first client. It’s a win-win.’

– PE teacher Ian Hearn

The ASD students hone the practical skill they’ll use their whole lives, as well as soft and career skills such as organization, communication and collaboration. They work alongside PEERS – general education students they partner with throughout the school year.

They also encounter real-life workaday dilemmas: “Sometimes we get behind if it’s a sweaty workout day,” Thomas said. “But they all know what to do.” As for Alex and Jonah, “as soon as that bell dings on the dryer, they get up and start taking care of business. I don’t have to tell them anything.”

Besides teaching life skills, such as how to use public transportation, what it’s like to place an order at a restaurant and conversational etiquette, some of Thomas’ students also are honing pre-vocational skills through activities such as the towel business.

“They’re just learning in a different way,” he said.

And sometimes, they’re sharing their unique expertise. Thomas said it was Jonah who initially programmed the washing machine. “He told me all about the self-clean cycle… I didn’t know.”

As Hearn pointed out, “(Thomas) does such a great job with the program, and the last couple years it’s been difficult for them to get out” and gain job skills such as they did before pandemic safety restrictions prevented their usual partnerships with nearby restaurants, grocery and retail businesses. 

“They had a unique need, we had a need here, and they (essentially) formed a business where we were their first client. It’s a win-win.”

The Eastern Towel Team: back row from left, Alex Roy and Jackson Campbell; front row from left, Shreeya Chandana, Noah Eickholt and Jonah Borucki
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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