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These young hands are ready to help

Noreen Zobel, a fifth-grader at Suncoast Elementary School, lives near the Gulf of Mexico in Hernando Beach. Many times during tropical storms, she has watched the waters around her house rise. She has listened to the wind and wondered if the water would seep in.

The rising water makes her afraid, she said. Though her house has never been flooded, close calls have helped her understand how natural disasters can rob people of their possessions, leaving them homeless and hungry.

Noreen's experience and understanding has motivated her to help others. She is president of the K Club at Suncoast Elementary. The K Club, sponsored by the Spring Hill Kiwanis Club, is an elementary school-level community service group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders that encourages students to help those who are less fortunate. They also raise money for the school and have bought basketball nets and a manatee sculpture that sits in the school courtyard.

They keep Quality Drive, the road leading to the school, free of trash and have brought Easter baskets, Christmas cards and valentines to patients at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, which sits next to the school.

Last week, Suncoast's K Club, which has about 100 members, donated $500 to the Hernando County chapter of the American Red Cross. They asked that the money be given to flood victims in Hernando County and to victims of the treacherous tornadoes that ripped through Kissimmee this year.

"Those people need food and they only get it when the truck brings them hot food," Noreen said. "They really don't have anything else; they need help."

The K Club meets each week to decide on community service projects. When they saw news clips of Kissimmee, the group decided the people there needed a lot of help. They also had heard about flooding in Hernando County and were concerned for those people, too.

"The tragedy was on TV and in the newspapers," said Kirsten Busto, a fourth-grade member of the K Club. "It was very sad and we want to help those poor people."

Members of the K Club, which was started four years ago, volunteer to join the club and are required to attend each meeting. They sponsor a variety of fund-raising events throughout the school year. To raise money for the disaster victims, the students made bookmarks and gave them to people who made donations.

"I don't know how they do it, but they get people to give money," said Diane England, Suncoast's guidance counselor and sponsor of the K Club. "They're committed to this. They're driven, and they meet their goals."

The K Club members pay attention to other people's lives and try to understand what it is like to live with troubles.

"I feel shocked and scared when I think of someone in trouble," said Nicholas Fernandez, a fourth-grader who serves as the clubs's secretary-in-training. "I want to help others."

"It makes me feel good to help someone who is having problems," said Michael Ryan, the fourth-grade club's treasurer.

Teaching children to help others is an important lesson, England said. If they learn when they are young, they are likely to continue serving others as they mature. At the middle school level, there is a similar group called the Builders Club and at the high school level the group is called the Key Club. All are sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.

"We're really giving the kids something to think about," England said. "Doing good things for others is the way to make yourself feel good. There is a feeling of pride that comes from doing community service."

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