Flint students share love on Global Youth Service Day

A boy works on the corner of a blanket he is making.
Freeman fifth- and sixth-grade students took the lead in planning and conducting a service project, driven by a desire to help other kids in the community. Photo: Cristina Wright

Waiting for assignment in the foster care system can be very upsetting for children, and students at Flint’s Freeman Elementary School wanted to do something to make the situation a little more bearable. So after several weeks of thoughtful preparation, 40 fifth- and sixth-graders gathered in the school gym, ready to tackle a service project involving 200 yards of fleece fabric and a massive amount of goodwill.

In celebration of Global Youth Service Day, the students — along with several teachers, their community school director, and two AmeriCorps Community School Corps members — made 50 tied-fleece blankets to be given to children waiting for placement through the Genesee County Department of Health and Human Services foster care division.

A student adds to a pile of blankets for children who are waiting for placement through the foster care division of the Genesee County Department of Health and Human Services.
Photo: Cristina Wright

Many children at Freeman have been directly affected by foster care or know someone who has, said teacher Kathy Savoie. It was a topic that hit home when the school’s student council began discussing a service project last December.

“The kids were very concerned about children who wouldn’t be with their families during the holidays,” said Allie Herkenroder, one of the AmeriCorps members assigned to the school.

The project born of that concern provided an opportunity for students to learn the practical mechanics of planning, teamwork and finance, according to Jordan Munerlyn, community school director at Freeman. In addition to working with teacher advisors to apply for a small Youth Service America grant from the United Way of Genesee County to pay for supplies, the children met with a children’s protective services specialist from Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services to learn more about how the foster care system operates. A field trip was also on the agenda.

Students put their creative talents to use by making blankets in a variety of patterns and colors.
Photo: Cristina Wright

“We went to the store and picked out the fabric,” said DeJuane Carroll, a student at Freeman. “And we learned how to tie the blankets together like you tie shoes,” he added, demonstrating his technique.

Locally, 2,435 students participated in 15 youth-led projects across Flint and Genesee County. Celebrated in more than 100 countries each April, Global Youth Service Day was established in 1988 by Youth Service America, a Mott grantee.

In addition to making blankets, Freeman students — with help from their teachers — also solicited books from LaTashia M. Perry, an author from nearby Grand Blanc, Michigan, who joined the service project. A personal note of encouragement from the Freeman school family — in the form of a bookmark — was inserted in each book. With the remaining grant money, the student council also purchased some teddy bears.

“Everyone likes teddy bears and a good book,” said DeJuane, during a break in the blanket-making marathon. “We just want to give kids something to show they’re loved.”