Signal Hill Elementary School Principal Sharon Stallings sent an email to her staff right before Thanksgiving break with a quote from Ronald Reagan: “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
Stallings is not only instilling her staff to help others, but to her students as well with numerous community service projects throughout the school year. The students are part of a group called Husky Service Team, as husky is the school mascot. A new project is assigned each month where a group of students conduct service activities in the community. She took it a step further this year by adding an activity where everyone in the community can help, and it’s helping kids hundreds of miles away in North Carolina who were affected by Hurricane Matthew.
Secretary Linda Hummel travels to North Carolina frequently and her son lives near Lumberton, where some of the devastation occurred. Hummel and Stallings searched to find a school to “adopt” in Lumberton that was similar to Signal Hill in terms of the number of kids enrolled and grade levels. Stallings contacted the school’s principal, but found out school hadn’t started yet due to the hurricane. The school wasn’t damaged, but they started three weeks late because the community was devastated.
“All of the kids at the school lost just about everything,” Stallings explained. “Once they did get back in school, we found out what they needed, and clothing was the №1 item. The principal gave me a list of not names, but ages and sizes.”
Stallings and her staff hung blue and pink hearts in the front office, each one with a child’s size and a particular item of clothing.
“You pull a heart and you buy the item,” she said. “Parents, students, anyone that comes through the school can take one.”
Once you take a heart and purchase the clothing, the school asks you to tape the heart to the clothing and bring it back unwrapped.
“It hit really close to home and it’s emotionally draining, but this is going to help the families, and we hope it’s going to help them have a Merry Christmas,” Tanglewood Elementary School Principal Joanna Hunt said of the donated items.
Next to the hearts are stars on a “giving tree.” Each star has a description of clothing items and toys for 30 less fortunate families in this area. Just like with the hearts from the Hurricane Matthew activity, anyone who comes to the school can take a star, purchase the item and bring it back with the star taped to it.
Around 100 third through fifth graders sign up to be a part of the Husky Service Team each month, a character building initiative where those students participate in community service activities. Fifth-grade teacher Colleen Kelly is the head of the program and said the students give up their recess to work on the activities, something that surprised her initially.
“I was just in shock with the amount of kids that wanted to participate and whose parents were instrumental in permitting them to because it does take away from recess,” she said. “The fact that they come during recess and give up their time, to see their excitement and how much they are enjoying it, it’s worth it. To help them to realize what’s really important in life, I think they see that.”
“When I do the community projects, I feel good because I know I’m helping other people and helping the less fortunate,” fifth grader Kate Delaney said. “I know when I do all that stuff, I can give back to the people that don’t have a lot like I do.”
The activity for October was Socktober. Students donated socks to people at New Visions Center in Camden. For November, students made placements with positive messages and packed utensils for the homeless at Cathedral Kitchen in Camden. On Wednesday Dec. 7, the service team will be visiting Kresson View Center at 6:30 p.m. to sing holiday songs.
Kelly said she and the staff explain to the students exactly what they are doing and how they will affect whom they are helping before they start working on the activities.
“We showed them a video of New Visions Shelter and all they provide for the members and the clients that come there,” she explained. “Instead of them (the students) bringing something in and not knowing where it’s going, now they really understand.”
“This means helping other people, especially the people in Camden who live in poverty, and also, it matters that we help them,” fifth grader Gavin Garcia said. “I really think we should actually notice that all the things we have, and we shouldn’t take it for granted while they don’t have anything, and we need to help out because we have so much more.”