By Devin Rose
River Forest schools have been in session for more than a month, which means it's the time of year when thoughts of service projects dance through students' heads. And that means calling area businesses and collecting clothing and food for donation.
Organizers of District 90's three service clubs say the projects they'll do through the course of the year get kids at different ages thinking sympathetically about people in need in their communities and across the world. In the elementary schools, the clubs provide an introduction to service and help students understand the importance of doing things for people in need. Once they get to middle school, they can take on more responsibility with the planning of events.
Sarah Lempia, a member of the PTO at Lincoln and a co-leader this year of the service club, Heartworks, said the group recently held its first monthly meeting. She said she wants kids to realize that the club is not only about fundraising for good causes but also taking the time to do good deeds.
She's "trying to get them to think of [service] in a bigger fashion — it's not about money." For example, Lempia said a family friend was injured over the summer. While his surgery was happening in the hospital, her son brought Uno cards and played with his wife in the waiting room.
"Kids can relate to that," she said.
Lempia added she's been corresponding with organizers of the Kindly Wizards, Willard's service club, about possibly working together.
That club was started by Susan Lucci about seven years ago, when Lucci realized the school didn't have any opportunities for fourth-graders to engage in service projects.
Lucci said the kids would meet during lunchtime every other week and she'd read books to them about topics such as homelessness. Then they would take on a related hands-on project, like make holiday stockings for PADS.
Lucci wanted the students to see that the projects could start just by thinking about what they had too much of. She would ask them where they could find pennies, and they'd search between couch cushions in their homes. The total number of pennies was donated to Pennies for Peace, a non-profit organization that uses the coins to build schools in developing countries.
That activity underscored the fact that even though the issues could seem overwhelming, everyone pitching in something small could help address it. One year the students collected school supplies. Lucci said seeing pictures of the things they sent being put to use helped students realize their impact.
At Roosevelt Middle School, the service club students are responsible for more aspects of organizing their projects, said President Suzanne Morrison.
They talk about their goals and what charities they'd like to support for the year, and make a calendar to keep track of deadlines. They plan out a budget and keep the meeting minutes. When they needed donations from local businesses for last year's Thanksgiving food drive, they were eager to write letters to and make calls to store managers.
"They're not being pushed in there by their parents," Morrison said. The reason they want to stay part of the club is because they are trusted to do more on their own.
"They'd write letters that weren't perfect, but that was half the charm," she said.
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