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Challenger K-8 plays Santa for needy children

SPRING HILL

Giannette Long walked a pink and purple bicycle through the cafeteria to a collection area.

The 13-year-old eighth-grader was one of the Beta Club members at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics helping to organize hundreds of toys donated by students, teachers and parents.

The toys, including 17 bicycles, were going to be distributed to 100 needy children identified by the Salvation Army. Giannette said the service group was coordinating the toy drive "so they have a Christmas."

Middle school science teacher Colleen Doulk and middle school graphic arts teacher Anne Bristol are Beta Club sponsors. The club has 54 members in the seventh and eighth grades. Members, Doulk said, must maintain a 3.5 or higher grade-point average and are recommended by their teachers because of leadership qualities. Beta is a national service organization.

The Challenger Beta motto is "Leading by Servicing," and Doulk said all students in her group must do eight hours of service a year. The toy collection is called the Angel Tree program, and it is done in coordination with the Salvation Army. Doulk said the Salvation Army had requests for toys for 600 children up to age 13. Challenger handled 100 of those.

The school received a pack of cards with children's names, ages, sizes and wishes. Then the students got to work. They raised money. A popular fundraiser was "Ditch the Duds." For a donation, students were allowed to ignore the dress code for a day. Doulk said each homeroom that participated in shopping raised an average of about $130.

Some smaller homerooms pooled their money. From there it was distributed to actively participating homerooms. The central collection was coordinated by middle school math teacher Cathy Beckwith. Enough money was brought in to give $50 to each of the shopping classes.

Some homerooms made an event of the toy shopping, going out to dinner before heading to stores. Bristol and Doulk went with their students and some parents to Beef 'O' Brady's and then to Target. Later that week at school, Doulk said, her class had a gift-wrapping party with hot chocolate and holiday music.

Seventh-grader Nicole Piccinich, 13, is a Beta member who helped sort toys. She mused about community service, comparing herself with others not as fortunate.

"It taught me character and things about me that I never knew," she said. "I felt really happy and sad."

She remembered the food collection the group had done just a few weeks earlier.

"I know I can afford Thanksgiving. It felt really nice to know they could, too."

Nicole is glad she joined Beta Club.

"I felt like I wanted to be more to the community," she said. "It makes me feel proud. I'm very proud to help people of the community."

That is the lesson the teachers are trying to promote.

"These kids get the real meaning of Christmas from shopping for other people," Bristol said.

"I think service is important," Doulk said. "These are the kids we're looking to for the future. We should do things without a reward attached to it."

Events sponsored partly or wholly by the Challenger K-8 Beta Club are the Thanksgiving food collection, the Christmas Angel Tree program, the Valentine's Day carnation sale, the ongoing pop top collection for Ronald McDonald House, Quarters for Cancer/Relay for Life and staff appreciation.

The Angel Tree program involved more than just the Beta Club, though.

"This is a reflection of the whole school," Doulk said.

Challenger K-8 plays Santa for needy children 12/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 9:09pm]
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