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Helping is Key to them

Many young people today do care. They care about the old and the young and people who are disabled. They care enough to spend much of their free time helping these people. And a lot of these caring kids belong to the Lecanto High School Key Club.

Sponsored by the Homosassa Springs Kiwanis Club, the school club has 71 members in grades nine through 12. Its adviser is teacher Margaret Williams.

The purpose of the Key Club, which stands for Kiwanis Educated Youth, is simple.

"To give back to the community," said Kellie Harrod, 17, a senior who is in her third year with the group.

"I plan to give to the community after I graduate, so why not start now?" said Kellie, who is interested in becoming a law enforcement officer. "I get a brief moment here at Key Club giving to the community, helping out."

The group participates in a range of service projects. One of the most recent was a Halloween party at nearby CREST School, which serves children who are mentally, emotionally or physically handicapped.

"We take treats to them, and we dance with them and get to know them. It's hard for them to get to know what other high schoolers are like," Williams said. "We also tour the facility for kids who aren't able to be moved."

Another Key Club project is "Reading Is Fundamental." Four times a year, the students accompany Kiwanis Club members to the prekindergarten at Lecanto Primary School, where they read to the children and give out treats.

The Altrusa-sponsored "Kidriffic" event at the Crystal River Mall also attracts Key Club members. They help children with drawings, newspaper necklaces and hats. They help with the event's setup and cleanup.

When a playground was being built in Crystal River, the Key Club was there.

"I put the tires together," said Merry Williams, 16, a junior, the current LHS Key Club president and daughter of the club adviser.

Merry said she first got interested in the club as a little girl, when she went to the activities with her mother.

"I was amazed at how many kids got together and wanted to help their communities and the schools and the whole world, and I wanted to be just like them," she said.

For Merry, Key Club seems to run in the family. Her brother and sister also were Lecanto High Key Club presidents.

Sara Gause, 18, a senior and a second-year club member, also finds it to be a family affair. "My Dad has been in Kiwanis, and I just saw all that he was doing, and I thought it would be a nice thing to join my Key Club in high school."

With the holidays approaching, Kellie says she looks forward to one of her favorite club activities: a trip to the mall to buy Christmas gifts for a needy child.

After that, in late March, the group helps with the Key Training Center's annual field day. Students chase and retrieve balls and push wheelchairs in the races. Students also help serve drinks and hot dogs, hug participants and "make them feel good," Merry said.

Key Club also serves the elderly with an adopt-a-grandparent program.

"We go to Life Care Center (of Citrus County), and we visit them when we can and talk to them, be a companion or family member," Merry said. "It's like being a grandchild."

During its 13 years, the club has reaped many honors. It has placed first in Florida twice for overall community service. For the 1995-96 year, the group placed second for community service at the International Convention in Miami Beach and for the 1996-97 year, Merry Williams received recognition as Outstanding Club President.

But the students say their biggest reward comes from the smiles they bring to others.

"I think it's a lot of fun because you're helping a lot of people, and I think that's really good," said Amy Colsanti, a 14-year-old freshman.

Jenn Hampton, 17, a senior who is in her second year with the group, joins the others in a desire to serve. "I joined Key Club mainly because I've always been involved in community service. It's really beneficial to myself _ a personal feat to help other people. It makes you stop and think how lucky you really are."

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