Ricky McNally made me laugh the other day.
Ricky is 12 years old, is in the seventh grade and attends South Middle School in Joplin. I was chatting with Ricky and his classmate Lexi Ward, who is 13. With us were Leslie Gann, a teacher at the school, and Sue Carter, who works as a mentor at the school. At one point, someone said something about students who have gotten in trouble at the school. I looked at Ricky.
“You don’t get into much trouble, do you?” I asked.
Ricky gave me a mischievous look and said, “Well, not MUCH trouble.”
I can relate to Ricky. At St. Xavier’s Junior High School in Junction City, Kan., I wasn’t necessarily bad, but I was never in danger of being nominated for sainthood either.
I was an OK student. I wasn’t one of the leaders in our class, but I wasn’t at the bottom. The thing that really helped me in school is that I found things to get involved in, things to keep me occupied, things to make me feel like I was something.
That’s one of the reasons Leslie and Sue have put together a loosely constructed group at South Middle School called the South Community Helpers. See, Sue and Leslie know some things about kids. They know, for example, that middle school can get a bit overwhelming every now and then. They know that sometimes, because of that, it’s easy for a kid to get overlooked, to get lost in the shuffle. And if that happens in seventh grade, who knows what will happen when that kid reaches high school?
Lexi transferred to South Middle School a month or two into the semester. She said it was tough at first to fit in. She said she met one of her new friends through the South Community Helpers.
The group gets together a couple of times a month, after school, to plan community service projects. The group’s numbers float somewhere between eight and 10 students. Last week, four members of the group rang the bell for two hours at a Salvation Army Christmas kettle, and they will do the same thing for four hours on Dec. 8. The group has volunteered at the Joplin Humane Society and plans to do so again. The students have volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House. Earlier this school year, the group teamed up with the National Junior Honor Society to fill shoe boxes with gifts and supplies that were shipped to children in Haiti.
When I stopped by the school Tuesday, Ricky and Lexi were talking about taking part in the Polar Plunge, an annual winter fundraiser for the Special Olympics that requires participants to jump into Shoal Creek. Leslie quickly informed Ricky and Lexi that she wasn’t jumping into Shoal Creek.
Ricky and Lexi weren’t sure they were going to do so either, but as Ricky said, “It’s a chance to raise money for the school for Special Olympics.”
I thought that was something.
The neat thing about the South Community Helpers is that you don’t have to do or be anything to be a part of the group.
“The National Junior Honor Society does community service projects, but you have to have the grades to join,” Leslie said. “The student council does too, but you have to be elected.”
The rules governing the South Community Helpers are pretty simple: You just have to show up.
And you don’t even have to show up all the time. Sue and Leslie understand that schedules get busy. They understand that parents can’t always get their kids to every event.
“It’s about getting involved,” Leslie said. “If you can make it, great. If not, you’re not getting kicked out.”
It’s a neat deal is what it is.
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