SCMS has plenty of Helping Hands

Students involved in numerous community projects
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Shawano Community Middle School students, from left, Alexis Cherney, Jasmine Soto, KK Rohr, Emily Spreeman, Elise Pyatskowit and Alex Bellingrath chat back and forth as they work on crafting denim pieces with sexual assault awareness messages and art during a session of the Helping Hands Club on Monday. The club has 26 students on average participating, but some projects have seen 40 to 50 students participate.

At one time or another, everyone needs a helping hand.

Shawano Community Middle School has plenty to go around.

The school started the Helping Hands Club at the beginning of the school year, and already it has conducted two dozen service projects that help local organizations. Among the projects are making pet treats for Safe Haven, Shawano Area Matthew 25 and the Shawano County Humane Society; making supplies for autism awareness activities; making valentines for the veterans home in King and traveling there to play bingo with them; ringing bells in Green Bay for the Salvation Army; and helping to run the school’s Santa Shop.

Using fundraisers, community donations and Thrivent funds, Helping Hands has put over $3,000 into the community, according to Trish Berg, the club’s adviser.

Once a week, the club meets after school in Berg’s classroom, with an average of 26 students filtering in to enjoy snacks and get their hands dirty while doing something good.

“We do some socializing at the beginning of each meeting,” Berg said. “These kids have done quite a bit. We spend quite a bit of time devoted to different projects. We’re just students serving the community.”

This week, Helping Hands broke out the paint and helped Safe Haven to paint pieces of denim with sexual assault awareness messages in recognition of April being Sexual Assault Prevention Month.

Berg, a special education teacher at SCMS, noted that the school already has a number of clubs for students to participate in, but she felt there were some students who didn’t fit in with the academics or athletics that many of those clubs entail.

“I wanted to place for everyone to feel like they could be successful and they could be helpful and confident,” Berg said. “I wanted a social place for kids who don’t have those social interactions outside of school.”

Berg is not handling it alone, though. Other staff members and parents are getting involved to help guide students through the various projects, whether it’s helping them to bake gingerbread cookies or assisting with making fleece tie blankets.

“It has just been a great way to get families involved,” Berg said.

However, the motivation doesn’t come from staff or parents. The students are motivated to help whoever needs it all on their own, according to Berg.

As an example, SAM25 representatives did a presentation for the club and talked about how the Salvation Army helps the agency with funding for the homeless shelter. Berg said that, after the presentation, the students immediately asked what they could do to help.

About 40 students came out to ring bells for the Salvation Army, but with no place in Shawano big enough to accommodate that many ringers, the school had to work out a deal with a mall in Green Bay.

“I’ve never seen commitment like this,” Berg said. “These kids are always ready, whatever it is. They are full in. They’re incredibly helpful and have such big hearts.”

Some of the projects have included travel, and Berg said the school adminstration has approved every trip and fundraising project so far.

One of those trips included going to the King Veterans Home. Fifty students came out for that project, Berg said.

The club received a letter of thanks for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs for the hygiene drive it did, collecting toothpaste, clothing, facial tissue, puzzle books, playing cards and more.

“We do all we can to meet and exceed the needs of veterans,” the letter stated. “We appreciate your support of Wisconsin veterans. It’s through contributions such as yours that we’re able to provide an enriched quality of life that each has earned through selfless service to our country.”

The pet treat fundraiser was a highlight for the students; Berg noted most of them love animals. After selling the treats, the students took the money and bought fabric to make tie blankes for Safe Haven, the humane society and SAM25.

“You would not believe how many we sold, and people have been asking about it, so that might be something we do again,” Berg said. “We made well over $500 just on the dollar-bags of dog treats.”

Alicyn Poulos, one of the club members, said her parents enjoy helping others, so she wanted to do the same thing.

“I wanted to help the community with different projects that are fun,” Poulos said.

Poulos said she enjoyed the dog treats project most, noting that there were peanut butter treats and pumpkin treats.

The club’s next two projects involve making bookmarks to give to the school and community libraries, and raising funds to buy books for Shawano County’s Birth to 3 program.