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TKHS Students Find Joy in Giving Back and Helping Others

But the biggest smile touching everyone's heart was the shy but engaging smile of Natha, a kindergarten student, as he played in a new elevated sandbox - just the right height for his wheelchair.

"I think he's going to love it," said J.C. Rose, one of three high school students who delivered the surprise to the McFall playground after having helped build it in the high school woods class. "It's really good for him  to have something he can play with."

Once the sandbox was filled with new sand, Nathan came out from his classroom to give it a try. It was a perfect fit. In no time, Nathan was filling buckets and loading a dump truck with sand in a play area he could easily access.  

"I thought it was going to bring tears to his eyes he was so happy," said A.J. Ricco. "It's a great feeling to be able to help."

That's what Friday was all about - helping others and giving back to the community that so generously supports TK students and schools.

High school Principal Tony Petersen told students that service day is about more than themselves. "It's a day for you to give back to the community and do something good to help others."

At Carveth Village Dorothy Hawkins smiled and talked with high school student Ellie Adams. They spent some time playing Bingo together and were getting ready for lunch.

Klasiena Vandenburg was visiting at Carveth and was surprised with all the students. She was even more surprised to see how it affected her friend. "It's the first time I've come here and seen her really, really happy," she said. "It's so nice to see so many kids here today."

Lee Elementary School third-graders flocked around high school student Joe Dinkel as if he was a rock star. Joe and other high school students helped out in classrooms and, just by being there, instantly became positive role models. It was the same at Page Elementary where high school students mentored in classrooms and helped plant seedlings near the playground.

High school woods students made several raised garden boxes and helped clear and prepare a new garden area at the middle school. Spread out through the village of Middleville, students cleaned flower beds, picked up trash, raked ball fields to prep them for spring and summer play, and cleaned and cleared branches and limbs along the Paul Henry Trail.

"I like that we get to be outside for the day and it's fun to get to do something different," said Josie Thompson as she plucked weeds out of the village flower beds.

Working alongside her were Emma Fabiano and John Plummer. They all agreed the high school service day is something that should happen every year - and maybe even more than once a  year they said.

From the Barry Expo Center and Camp Manitoulin to Spring Park, the Crane  Road ballfields and the Thornapple Paul  Henry Trail, about 400 students worked all morning off the high school campus.

Those who stayed at the high school found plenty of projects they could do as well. Students sewed sleeping bags for the homeless, painted kindness rocks and transformed plain brown paper lunch bags into joyful and colorful bags for Kids Food Basket. Others created inspirational and cheerful tags for IV bags at DeVos Children's Hospital or made dog toys from old t-shirts for animal shelters. They made Tooth Fairy bags for the schools, baked and decorated cookies for the community, created duct tape wallets for Degage Ministries, and planted seedlings to brighten the school properties and community.

Motivational speaker Phil Campbell, known as PC Rocks, encouraged students before they all set off on their given tasks. He reinforced the service day message.

"Inspire the hopeless and empower the dreamers," he said. "Take time to learn to love yourself and believe in you and in what you can do," he said.

He told students test scores should not define who they are or what they can become and challenged teachers not just to teach for tests, but to teach to the heart of their students.

"Live with all your heart, love with all your heart and believe in yourself with all your heart," he said.

This was the seventh year the high school has held their service day event. It's organized and planned each year by the student council members with their advisors Liz Ritsema and Cary Saxton. This year's event received funding assistance from three grants - Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation, Youth Advisory Council and the Michigan Community Service Commission celebrating Global Youth Service Day. Items were also donated for several of the projects including materials donated by Lowe's for building the sandbox and raised garden beds.