Draper Park Middle School woke to a surprise on Valentine’s Day, arriving in the morning to find their lockers adorned with pink, paper hearts each inscribed with a personalized note of positivity.
It’s a bit like having a secret admirer, or in this case, a whole club of them. The sentiments ranging from, “You’re inspiring,” and “You’re brave,” to “You should be proud of yourself,” and “You bring out the best in people” were painstakingly prepared and placed on the lockers by the school’s Service Club. “We gave the students sentence-starters and ideas, but they came up with a lot of their own messages, which ended up being way better than ours,” says Ellie Seaborn, a sixth-grade science teacher who helps run the Service Club with Laura Bitner, Draper Park’s Head Counselor.
Middle school is a time of change, growth and discovery, and Seaborn and Bitner hope one of the discoveries their students make is the joy and reward of community service. For 30 minutes each month, Draper Park Middle Service Club members work on projects that benefit their school, their peers, their neighborhood, and the community at large.
Since the club’s inception a year ago, students have completed more than a half dozen projects. One activity had the kids making salt-dough egg decorations that they then hand-delivered to residents at the Draper Rehabilitation and Care Center. Residents were thrilled with the gifts, but were especially pleased with the students’ visit.
For another project, club members cut and assembled bingo game kits that were sold at the Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for Primary Children’s Hospital. Students also worked with Catholic Community Services to make blankets and “Welcome” signs for teenage refugees. Sixth-grader Colin Derr especially loved that activity because, he says, “I learned a new skill and got to serve others.”
Some projects, such as an anti-bullying effort undertaken at the school and the Valentine’s Day surprise, take place closer to home. But no matter the project, Service Club members are finding the experience hugely rewarding. “I like giving back to others, not just doing things for myself,” says sixth grade student Isaac Branch. It’s also a great way to meet new friends, says Branch’s classmate Shelia Horman, “I just hate missing it. I like helping people and having fun.”
That “do good, feel good” component of the club has made it successful, too. The club’s first meeting attracted about 40 students, but every month, club members bring more friends into the fold. Now more than 100 students regularly attend the meetings.
As Service Club members filed into a classroom after school on Feb. 13 and began laying 1,600 hearts out on tables in preparation to distribute them, the task seemed daunting. Barely 30 minutes later, sixth grader Colin Derr returned to the room to grab another handful of hearts and was astonished to find the job was complete; affixed to every locker in the school was an uplifting message. Many hands, it seems, make light work and warm hearts.