My friend and fellow Communities In Schools Board member Dick Vanberg alerted me to Early Act, a community service club at Purdy Elementary led by his Gig Harbor Morning Rotary Club member Dan Rioux. Frankly, I’d never heard of the nationwide program for elementary school children. I am now a staunch supporter.
I joined Dick and Dan in fourth grade teacher Mary Beth Beene’s class and learned that under the program, third, fourth and fifth grade Purdy students have participated in a local project, the “Thanksgiving Basket Brigade” delivering food baskets to families in need on Thanksgiving eve, and an international project, “Shoes to a Guatemalan Village.” They’ve already worked on and are beginning discussions on a national project.
“They’re also learning Rotary’s ‘Four Way Test.’ First, Is it the truth? Second, is it fair to all concerned? Third, will it build goodwill and better friendships? And fourth, will it be beneficial to all concerned?” Vanberg explained.
“This test helped me learn how to solve problems on my own by thinking about the four things,” said fourth-grader Maya Carnathan.
Gig Harbor High School senior Olivia Kaija’s senior project is the Purdy Early Act program.
“My experiences with Rotary started as a junior when I took a year off to study in Belgium, where I learned to speak French, got to know three host families, and made friends from all over the world,” Kaija said. “When I heard Dan Rioux was trying to get Early Act started at Purdy, I wanted to be involved — a perfect way of giving back to Rotary for an amazing year overseas.”
“The kids decided they want to give back to the troops,” she added. “I’ve been observing how these kids react to giving their time and kindness to others. We put together boxes of food for a day care center in Tacoma for families unable to buy Thanksgiving dinner. The kids were so excited to carry food into the building knowing someone else would have a happy Thanksgiving.”
“It feels really good to help people in need,” said fifth-grader Sophia Placido. “An example is it’s nice to receive gifts at Christmas, but it feels amazing to give gifts.”
“Our student council members help our community by inspiring and actively encouraging our school to positively impact those around us,” said Purdy Principal Kristi Rivera. “They’ve supported our incoming kindergarten students and families, families in our community in need of food, soldiers, and children in Guatemala in need of shoes. These students are tomorrow’s leaders. I continue to be inspired by their desire to give to others and make the world a better place.”
Purdy’s student council representatives are elected by their classmates in the fall.
“My project is completed, but I love attending Early Act meetings,” Kaija said. “I couldn’t have picked a better project. I never thought I’d love being part of it as much as I do. Early Act and interacting with kids has changed my perspective on getting involved in the community.”
Said fifth-grader Georgia Garnsey, “Every day when I did something for either the world or community I felt very proud and I’m like, ‘Yea! I just did that.’ It keeps me very faithful.”
Classmate Allison Webster, Purdy’s student council president, said, “It was so much fun to experience the people that we gave food to. The shoes for Guatemala made me feel like I was doing the right thing.”
Many kids spent hours of their recess time brainstorming ideas, creating fliers and posters, and counting, sorting, and bagging almost 175 pairs of athletic and Croc style shoes.
“What I have learned ... is to make sure I am the best student and friend I can be,” said fourth-grader Ariela de Leon. “I am glad to know we are helping to make a difference in other people’s lives.”
In addition to involvement in service projects, Purdy student council members demonstrate leadership as greeters for special events like the Veterans Day assembly, assisting teachers with projects, helping the custodian clean up, and acting as tour guides to incoming first-year kindergarten parents during “Connect to Kindergarten.”
“Our last project,” said Rioux, “is to focus on support of our troops defending our country. It will be completed by the end of the school year. We hope to have a year-end celebration to reflect on the good work we have done this year and to look forward to next year.”
Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.