Highland High students trade springtime sun for service
Highland High's Principal Paul Schulte hustled among his 1,500 students, exchanging high-fives and pats on the back, before stopping at a group of football players lifting boxes onto a pallet.
The boxes were hygiene packs, filled with shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other toiletries. By the end of the day, 2,000 packs were due to be assembled.
On the next-to-last day of school, students at Highland High School forfeited one of spring's few nice days to spend the morning doing service.
"It means a lot to us to give back to our community. A lot of people don't have some of the things we do," said All-State fullback Sione Houma, who showed up an hour early to help set up.
Houma was one among the students who gathered in the cafeteria to assemble the hygiene packs, as well as pack medical gloves and surgical robes. Other students wrote letters to members of the military serving overseas, mostly in the Middle East.
The project was developed by Jill Van Leeuwen, who also serves as Highland's PTA President. Half of the hygiene packs will be distributed to the Salt Lake City School District and a men's shelter in the state and the other half, along with the robes and gloves, will go overseas.
"About 50 percent of students in Utah are on food waivers and are in desperate need," said Van Leeuwen of the hygiene packs that will be used locally. "It's great seeing the kids get into it, and seeing them so willing."
Van Leeuwen and Highland teamed up with Globus Relief, an international organization that provides aid to more than 100 countries and throughout the U.S.
Van Leeuwen included letter-writing in the project because she feels service members are a group who often go unnoticed.
About 500 students wrote letters expressing their gratitude to the service members. One student went as far as making her letter aesthetically appealing.
"I just said thank you for your service. I think that is the ultimate sacrifice," said senior Izzy Washburn. "I also drew a giraffe. Everybody likes giraffes."
This is not the first time Globus has linked up with a Utah school. They have worked with Hillcrest High School, Juan Diego, the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College on similar projects. But Holly Harris, head of donor relations at Globus, said it was the biggest project in which she has been involved.
"I get chills watching all of them. We owe it all to the kids," said Harris while helping students with their projects.
Houma said he was surprised by how many students showed up.
"When coach asked us to make sure we help, I didn't think it was going to be this big. It's great seeing everybody helping," Houma said.
Schulte stressed the importance of service not only within the community, but at the global level.
"It is important for the kids to provide a service and connect with both their community as well the community worldwide," Schulte said. "Often times we get caught up in our own experiences and forget that there our so many people throughout the world and many of them have needs."
Laura McDade, volunteer coordinator at Globus, was impressed with the student turnout and dedication, although some students were hazy about the project's details.
"I don't even know where a lot of this stuff is going but it doesn't matter because I know it's going to a good cause," Washburn said.
Van Leeuwen and Schulte plan to do the project every year and Van Leeuwen hopes to expand it.
"There will always be something, there will always be the next natural disaster. There will always be a need," Schulte said.