TMS students make a difference by ‘raking a difference’ to help those unable to tend yard work

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Tecumseh Middle School students raked the yards of many area residents on Rake A Difference Day Thursday and Friday. The project was spearheaded by the TMS Builders’ Club and Communities In Schools of the Tecumseh Area and involved nearly all of the school’s more than 900 students. Above, sixth grade students and their teacher (center) Paul Keyser rake a yard on Shawnee Street. Photo by Deane Erts.

Anyone who has a doubt about Americans’ penchant to help out in an emergency need only witness the outpouring of volunteerism on the Eastern Seaboard in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc in that sector of the nation Tuesday. State and federal agencies were quick to respond, but so were neighbors and private citizens.

Volunteerism is an impulse for many, but it can also be encouraged in students through community service projects in less dire circumstances as a model for future acts of adult altruism in adult life through such programs as the Tecumseh Middle School “Rake A Difference Day.” More than 925 middle schoolers volunteered their services Thursday and Friday, Nov. 1-2, to area residents who were unable through age or infirmity to be able to rake their lawns.

The TMS “Rake A Difference Day” is a cooperative project between the school’s Builders’ Club (sponsored by the Tecumseh Kiwanis) and the Communities In Schools of the Tecumseh Area (CISTA), a nonprofit organization that works in the schools to enhance their education, often through helping others.

Students in the Builders’ Club have been organizing the leaf-raking event for decades, but this year the participation has exceeded past years. “Every classroom in the building is participating,” said CISTA’s TMS site coordinator Cindy Hook. “Rake A Difference is spread out over two days,” she said. “Today [Thursday, Nov. 1] the classrooms that walk to the raking sites went out, and the weather was perfect. Tomorrow, the classrooms who will be bused to the sites will be going out and we can only hope that the weather will be as nice.”

Hook said that the Builders’ Club supplies all of the biodegradable-paper leaf bags, and First Student Transportation donated the use of the buses that will carry the students to the homes that need raking. People from all over the Tecumseh School District have requested the service, she said. Two teachers accompany each classroom of students on the raking forays.

“The homeowners are always grateful,” Hook said. “They often give the kids a donation to the Builders Club in gratitude for the raking.” The raking project is not the only fundraising effort that the club undertakes during the school year. The members also sponsor a haunted house during Appleumpkin to raise money. The Builders’ Club, like its high school corollary the Key Club, donates most of the money raised to causes such as feeding the hungry or eradicating disease.

“The club teaches the kids a lot about community service and volunteering,” Hook said, “but it also teaches them a lot about leadership. It takes some serious organizational effort to coordinate the raking.” She said that the partnership between the Builders and CISTA is a natural fit. “We had a kid who went to T-Town Safety [a CISTA summer program for kindergarten-age students] who came back as a second grader and volunteered to help us with the program,” said Hook. “Now he’s in Builders’ Club and still volunteering. He’s been volunteering in something most of his life.”

For the students, the lesson in community service comes with a footnote of fun. It offers a chance to get out of the classroom for an hour of work mixed with a good dose of socialization. “It’s great for the kids,” said sixth grade teacher Paul Keyser, who accompanied his class to its second yard of the day. “This sort of activity teaches them a valuable lesson about teamwork and volunteering. This morning we were raking next door and this lady saw us and asked us if we could do her yard, so we told her we would be back after lunch.”

Keyser said that everybody in his class who was able gladly volunteered for Rake A Difference. “The only kids that I’m aware of not volunteering are kids with allergies to leaves. The Builders’ Club and CIS do a great job of putting this program together.”

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