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Celebrating a legacy of kindness with Kabookie Week

East Grand Rapids — At East Grand Rapids Middle School, the legacy of kindness, compassion and acceptance left by Jimmy Gerken shines bright, but especially during Kabookie Week.

Gerken, nicknamed “Kabookie,” was an EGR student and staff member with special needs, for whom friendliness was a way of life and whose presence was a staple in the district for decades. 

His spirit is remembered every year in February as students take part in acts of kindness and service to others.

The kindness on display during Kabookie Week meant the world to Sal Borton, a seventh-grader and relative newcomer to the district.

“I knew absolutely nothing about Kabookie, but it really meant a lot to have people recognize that being kind is actually decent and helpful to people,” Sal said. “There have been a lot of people who haven’t been so nice to me in the past, so I think it’s nice to actually make a difference and be a good person.”

During the week, middle-schoolers picked good deeds from tear-off sheets on the school walls. One of Sal’s was to thank a custodian, which she said she enjoyed. 

Seventh-grader Hannah Gerkin said it’s all about “being nice to everyone and respecting everyone” — a lesson that her classmate Tate Breslin took beyond the school walls. 

“Last week I gave a homeless person coffee … in Chicago,” Tate said, adding, “(I’m) just trying to be as nice a person as I can.”

Students also put together food baskets for students who couldn’t afford meals and made flower crafts to represent friendship and kindness.

Read more from East Grand Rapids: 
From pain to passion to PE
New AP brings ‘relationship-first’ approach to middle school

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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