FREEPORT – Hundreds of area students gathered Saturday in the Highland Community College Student Conference Center for their regular monthly Servant Leadership training session, but their March meeting brought something more to the table – it also was a celebration of the program’s 20th anniversary.
“In 20 years, our servant leaders have clocked more than a million hours of community service in our 4-county region,” Highland Community College Servant Leadership Coordinator Kim Pool said. “They've completed thousands upon thousands of service projects and helped countless community agencies through volunteerism.”
The Highland Community College Servant Leadership program draws its membership from 17 area high schools, 13 of which are active in the program.
"We ask each participating chapter to accomplish one community service project annually, but many of our schools do more," said Pool, who is retiring from the position in the spring.
“It looks like the next journey for my husband and I is a move to Kansas City, and we are looking at the possibility of overseas missions,” Pool said. "I'm excited for the next 20 years of Servant Leadership activities. A change in leadership can be an exciting time, so I look forward to the next director coming in with expanded vision and expanded enthusiasm for our young people.
"I think Servant Leadership will remain a strong program in our communities and at Highland, and I'm looking forward to coming back as an alumnus of the program.”
West Carroll High School has nine students participating in this year’s program. Their mentor, Mariah Pratt, said they have undertaken a pet shelter drive with the goal of helping the Safe Haven facility in Elizabeth as their chapter project.
West Carroll senior Jenna McGinnis said the group visited area businesses collecting donations for supplies needed at Safe Haven.
“With those donations we purchased items like dog and cat food, cat litter, blankets, cleaning products and much more,” McGinnis said. “We were able to collect more than $400 for those supplies, and kids at our school brought items, too.”
McGinnis said she will attend Highland College next fall, and intends to continue her work with Servant Leadership.
“I've seen the good accomplished through the annual Hearts and Hands for Hunger project at Highland, and will return to work with that,” McGinnis said. “There were a lot of people involved with Hearts and Hands last year, and it’s an exciting project.”
Hearts and Hands for Hunger is entering its 8th year and has collected, packaged and delivered nearly a half million meals to children around the world.
Eastland High School Senior Anna Kuper said Hearts and Hands for Hunger is always a major undertaking.
“We stage a series of fundraisers during the school year, including bingo nights and movie nights at Eastland Elementary, so we can meet our goals for Hearts and Hands,” Kuper said. “Then, on the designated Friday and Saturday, we will all come in and pack the meals and send them off. It’s a huge undertaking with hundreds of helping hands, and it’s really an exciting thing to see everyone working together to feed so many children on a global level.”
She said the regular monthly training meetings are highly interactive, and the Eastland group is busy working on the March project that has students designing and building a model house for an 8-year-old girl who is unable to have physical contact with the outside world because of a medical disorder.
“We have to create as many opportunities as possible, so she is able to see the outside world without actually going out,” Kuper said.
The Eastland group discussed its project at length before beginning construction.
“We've included an entire glass wall or window, and a flower garden outside it, so she can see the beauty of nature without going outside,” Kuper said. “We’ve designed a ventilation room or air lock on the side of the house so the girls’ parents and friends can visit. And inside we've put a lounge area with multiple screens, so she can see the world and communicate without having to leave.”
She noted the importance of community service, saying the act of working together makes the world a better place.
“Just a simple act like picking up garbage or reaching others through events hosted at our school sends a message that if we all contribute, we all move forward,” Kuper said.
State Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Freeport, joined the program’s 20th anniversary celebration, and said community service is extremely important both today and in the future.
“Our servant leaders have done very well, and my hat is off to all the mentors, instructors, parents and schools that have supported the students who’ve attended this program over the years," Stewart said. "And more importantly, to their contributions to the communities they've come from. That’s what it’s all about.
"Seeing young people involved and engaged in serving their communities is exciting because our future is those young folks, and their leadership in our communities, our state and our country is important for us all.”