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It's the gift that counts

MHS organizations find different ways to aid the needy

Dec. 21, 2006

Forget the gadget du jour from boxy stores - students at Muskego High School have other visions dancing in their heads.

These teens planned. They asked. They received. They wrapped. And it was all for others, not themselves.

Muskego High School students Danielle Krahn (left) and Michelle Cromby organize donated food and supplies Dec. 14 that will be delivered to families in need. The students are members of Future Business Leaders of America, one of several school groups involved in charitable efforts. Photo by Ron Kuenstler

They gifted to those in need this Christmas and, on Christmas Day, they will probably never see the smiles they produced. But that doesn't matter because their primary concern was to help others in need.

Over the past several decades, many after-school groups at MHS have spearheaded charitable projects, including the Future Business Leaders of America, DECA and the Spanish National Honor Society.

Past and future givers

Stephanie Jansen, teacher and leader of Future Business Leaders of America, said her group has sponsored families through the Christmas season for over 20 years. The names of needy families are chosen through the Waukesha County Christmas Clearing Council just after Thanksgiving, setting into motion a group of about 25 motivated teens.

"One boy wants a warm blanket for his bed and you think, 'That's happening here in our own community,' " Jansen said.

Danielle Krahn, a senior in the group and giving-back chairwoman, said she enjoys doing the project.

"We wrap tons of boxes and ask teachers to collect money and donated items in their classrooms," Krahn said. "We focused on the English and business courses. It's not hard to do. We typed up letters every day, and then we helped collect the donated items or collect the money."

The group collected $1,214, which is down from last year but better than its $1,000 goal this year. The money will buy clothes, toys, food, gas cards and boxes of food. Cleaning products and other items are given to the families.

The items are then wrapped and taken to families' homes a few days before Christmas.

It's not just toys. One little girl needed a jacket, snow pants, boots, a hat and mittens. One mom told Jansen she really didn't need anything, but when pressed, asked for bathroom towels and more cleaning supplies.

"We just encouraged our students to participate in something, whether it was this or something else. We want them to do something to give back to others and think about how fortunate most of us are," Jansen said. "When a little boy is asking for a blanket and you are looking for a (PlayStation 3 video game system) under the tree you should distinguish between the two and realize how fortunate you really are."

Moving hearts globally

This holds true for students involved with the Spanish National Honor Society, who decided to go global with their gift-giving efforts via a non-profit organization called Hearts in Motion.

Susan Loeffler-Bell, a Spanish teacher and leader of the group, said one of her graduates worked at a clinic where several of the women were involved in Hearts in Motion, a non-profit agency that brings humanitarian aid to towns in Guatemala and Honduras.

"Our group (the Spanish National Honor Society) is a service organization so it's not just (a case of) we've got the (academic) grades. ... There's an expectation that these students will contribute to the local community by providing tutoring and the community at large, which is why we are doing this," Loeffler-Bell said.

Katy Kroening, a senior and member SNHS, said the group collected shoes, vitamins, medicines and school supplies for children to Guatemala and Honduras.

"It feels good to give back, but I also think it's cool that we get to help children around the world," Kroening said.

DECA-ing the halls

While each of these groups collected their goods, another group was also hard at work.

DECA, an association of marketing students, led a districtwide toy drive for Toys for Tots. The association has been spearheading the drive for almost 30 years.

"It amazes me every year how generous the people are, and it's not just small things," said Mary Martin, teacher and leader for the group. "It's nice to see that people care and have concern for other people."

Over 150 toys were collected from the high school alone. More came in the door. They will be picked up by the Marines, who take them to the Salvation Army for distribution to children.

"We asked all the principals if they would be willing to participate and they said yes, so we dropped off a box and the toys started coming in," said Natasha Tomich, a senior involved with the project. "Looking at all of these toys reminds me of my childhood with the Barbie dolls and the board game. ... I feel pretty good that we can make a lot of kids happy for Christmas."

While many students noted the feel-good aspect of their charitable efforts, Ruth Jones, the executive director of the Waukesha County Christmas Clearing Council, said it best: "These youth embody the spirit of giving and the true meaning of Christmas. Without these kids doing these projects, a lot of these families wouldn't have a Christmas with presents."

By the numbers

80

families identified by the Waukesha County Christmas Clearing Council who are in need in Muskego, Brookfield and New Berlin

28

years DECA has run the Toys for Tots drive in the Muskego-Norway School District

20

years the Future Business Leaders of America have sponsored families during Christmas

3

years the Spanish National Honor Society has collected items to be sent to Guatemala

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