Few things in this life are more inspiring that young people using their voices to fight for the voiceless. This January, the Jenison Junior High Teen Leadership Class had the amazing opportunity to do just that when they were invited to present their findings on global, national, and local hunger issues to the Amway Community Relations Team of West Michigan. Their hopes? Securing a $3,000 matching grant to benefit Hand 2 Hand Ministries of Hudsonville.
Mrs. Williams, the teacher and “mentor” of the class, says that the core message of their studies always comes back to servant leadership. So when the opportunity presented itself to give back to an organization already partnering with JPS (Hand 2 Hand), Mrs. Williams jumped at the chance to have her kids learn about food insecurity and chronic hunger.
Jonah Smith was candid in his remarks, “I never really thought about any world problems until I got into this class. Now I think about things like hunger all the time.”
Classmate Nick Nawrocki agreed, saying that learning about food banks, bridge cards, WIC, and programs like Feeding America “made things more relevant [to him].”
Working as a team, the class toured Goodwill to get a holistic idea of basic needs in the area. They also learned more about the ministry of Hand 2 Hand, which fills up backpacks of food to discretely send home with undernourished or “food insecure” participating students over each weekend. Teen Leadership students were amazed to learn of the high percentage of Jenison students in need of food assistance.
“Kids our age might know what a food bank is or how to shop at one, which is kind of sad. It seems like they’re losing their childhood — like they’re growing up too soon worrying about where their next meal will come from,” commented Katherine Flessner.
Veronica Howe described how, after spending weeks gathering data about hunger problems, the class created a PowerPoint and crafted an oral presentation to be presented at Amway with the hopes that they will match the $3,000 Jenison students have already raised for Hand 2 Hand this year. Upon arriving at the plush offices, all agreed that it felt good to be treated as a professional.
“It was cool at this age to be put in this professional environment. Everything was very big and expensive and when we got to our seats there were even gift bags for us!” Nick said.
“When we went to Amway, not only did they listen to us, but they were willing to give feedback. They were really honest and were willing to give pointers and offer constructive thoughts,” added Tabitha Hill.
“The coolest part of the whole experience was that even if we don’t get the grant, we brought tears to the adults’ eyes because of our passion and what we shared with them. One person even made a personal donation to our cause!” said Faith Stanton.
Mrs. Williams watched this all unfold with a smile that said it all. Her desire to help shape the next generation of concerned, compassionate, and ethical leaders is obvious.
“I was merely a facilitator, coordinator and vehicle for these students to realize that they do and will impact the future. I rest easily at night knowing that this group of young people will be leading our way some day. I do want to give HUGE amounts of appreciation to Michelle Meulendyk, David Byrne, Tom TenBrink, Brett Cataldo and Kristy Rogalla for their help in coordinating this project and belief in the abilities of 8th graders. Thank you!”