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OHS students 'adopt' a school, help kids in need

Students gain from rewarding experience

Dec. 12, 2012

Oconomowoc Area School District - This season marks the eighth year that Oconomowoc High School students have worked to brighten the holidays for less fortunate children.

The project is organized by the school's DECA students and brings gifts and toys to impoverished students at a Milwaukee school.

"We always select a school in the Milwaukee area. Mrs. Starke-White, the DECA adviser, comes into contact with the principal, and we choose schools with over 90 percent of their students under the poverty line," explained OHS senior Colleen Welsh, who has been involved in the project throughout her high school career.

Each child receives a wish list to fill out. It's then returned to OHS and given to an OHS student or staff member on Adoption Day so they can shop for the child.

Starke-White said the endeavor is student led.

This year over 300 underprivileged, inner city children, from Browning Elementary School will be adopted by students and families from Oconomowoc High School. They will provide toiletries, clothing, toys and a visit from Santa Claus. They will also host a celebration on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

"This year, we decided to have students separate from our officer team designated as Adopt-A-School Chairpersons. Sidney Ullrich and Carly Garcia, our chairs this year, are a great team keeping things very organized. They are both on top of each aspect of this event and efficiently complement one another. Both girls are very detail-oriented and what one isn't able to take on, the other is," Starke-White explained.

The teacher said that the three of them have spent about 30 hours so far on the project. Each of the 22 adopted classrooms has a 'room leader,' who has also worked on it. However, last week and this week are the most labor-intensive for students.

"Packages started arriving at 6:50 a.m. Monday morning and by Friday at 2:45 p.m., we should have over 240 gifts to be wrapped on Saturday at our third annual "Wrappapalooza!" Starke-White explained.

Each gift is checked to be sure all of the items are purchased and each child receives a hat and gloves, socks, underwear and a toy(s) from their wish list.

"The gifts are then wrapped in a color specific to their grade which helps with the overall organization," Starke-White said.

Putting an event of this scope together is no small feat, but students keep the focus on the goal.

"It is really difficult to get everything organized for this. Students join and leave the (adopted) schools often up until the last few days, and getting all of our adopters to bring in their gifts can be difficult, but we are getting more efficient every year, and all of our efforts always pay off once everything is accomplished," Welsh said.

The project has become a treasured tradition at OHS.

"Every year, we hear students say they had a great time. They say that they got more out of it than even the children, and that it is very eye-opening," she added.

 For some of the OHS students, seeing children in need is a new experience. Starke-White said the students really get a lot out of the project and are filled with gratitude for the blessings in their own lives.

"I wish everyone could see the children's faces when Santa delivers each year. I still get choked up when the children see Santa and when they open their gifts," the teacher said.

"Our students are far more gratified when we return to OHS, though it's a little like the 'post vacation blues' when it's over. Exhausted but smiling, all of the OHS students gather in my classroom when we return from the adopted school and we pick out our favorite moments. reliving what was just an hour or two earlier," she explained.

Welsh agreed.

"I have learned to appreciate the little things. These children have so little, but are so thankful for what they do have and for what we give to them. I think we can all learn from that," the student said.

Thanks to the effort of OHS parent volunteers, older students in the school, in grades four and five will receive goody bags with a small gift and some trinkets in it. Each classroom will also receive refreshments that morning including fruit, cookies, cheese, crackers and juice boxes.

"My favorite part of this event is that it brings the Holiday spirit to everyone involved. There aren't many things that can bring as much joy as providing hundreds of children with one of the best Christmases they have ever had," Welsh added.

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