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Friday, November 30, 2007

Richland 2 service blitz | Kids get dose of giving

Posted on Tue, Nov. 27, 2007

... and friendly competition
A whole lot of kindness, mixed with a healthy dose of competition, fuels the
ever-growing winter giving blitz at Richland 2's four high schools.

The students know their goals are ambitious - donate a total of 76,000 food
items, raise more than $10,000 for local charities, sponsor 550 foster
children, and collect thousands of books and toys.

But the cheerful givers - students at Blythewood, Richland Northeast, Ridge
View and Spring Valley - look forward to their winter service projects each

They see giving back as both a privilege and a responsibility.

"Every can, every donation that we raise from the community really and truly
makes a difference in the lives of those in the community," said Ashwin
Shahani, a Spring Valley student who leads the school's winter service
project. "I get the opportunity to spread hope and prosperity to those who
need it over the holiday season."

In 1984, Spring Valley was the first Richland 2 high school to form a winter
service project, "Winter Days," for the entire student body. Eventually, the
other three high schools came up with their own programs.

Each school has a core of student volunteers who organize the giving
campaigns, which include choosing the charities, deciding the goals, asking
businesses to donate and hosting celebrations. The schools typically have
themes and look for giving ideas that will set them apart.

Students start planning over the summer months but bring other students into
efforts in November. Most schools complete their projects in December.

For the student leaders, organizing the immense tasks can be stressful.

"It is a really big responsibility, but I enjoy it," said Richland Northeast
senior Stephanie Sharpe, who heads up the school's winter giving campaign.
"This is something that I'm passionate about."

Efforts this year include:

. Richland Northeast High students are gathering toys and collecting money
for Camp Kemo, a weeklong summer camp organized through Palmetto Health
Richland for young patients with cancer and their siblings.

. Blythewood High is collecting items for the James R. Clark Sickle Cell

. For the past 17 years, Spring Valley High has helped Children's Garden, a
day-care center for homeless children.

. And this year, Ridge View High began a letter-writing campaign for people
serving in the military.

Kim Sanders, the faculty adviser for the H.O.P.E for the Holidays project at
Richland Northeast, said more students get directly involved in the planning
every year. Like homecoming, she said, the winter service project is
something the students look forward to every year.

"That's what I love about these kids," she said. "It's amazing what they
want to do and what they do. They don't just let it sit around and be an

The money and items collected by the schools reach many Midlands families.
Leaders of area nonprofit groups credit the high school students with
providing significant help to their organizations.

"The goodness of these high schools is just extraordinary, said Elizabeth
Quackenbush, director of development for Volunteers of America Carolinas,
which facilitates Children's Garden. "It just restores your faith in the
next generation to see them commit their resources to ... those in need."

Shahani, the Spring Valley student leader, said giving back is about taking
a stand against poverty and making communities stronger.

"It's our role as citizens. It's up to us. It doesn't really matter who you
are or what you do. Anybody can donate; anybody can give back to the

Reach Woodson at (803) 771-8692.

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