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St. Thomas the Apostle Kids Care Club

Phoenix, Arizona

"Children have an amazing need to help people who are less fortunate, and sometimes it means unbridling this hidden desire. When given the opportunity, they are quite independent at implementing a project with the skills they already possess."
Tracy Wilky

Henry Wilky is in his third year with the St. Thomas the Apostle Kids Care Club (STA). He says, "I like making a difference while having fun with friends." Garrett Budnik, a 7th grader, agrees, "I really like Kids Care Club because you get to do different things, and you know you are doing something good for people." The 80 members of the STA Kids Care Club are having some "serious" fun. They are a dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of kids who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and commit hundreds of hours to help others.

In 2003, Tracey Wilky started the club with the strong support of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School's principal, Sr. Patricia Gehling, SSND. The response was so great with the original sixth grade members that they expanded it to include the 7th and 8th graders. Gwen Budnik leads the 7th and 8th graders. The club relies heavily on parent partners (volunteers). Moms and dads help out in a variety of ways: working along side of the kids, driving to on-site projects or contributing in-kind or financial donations. Tracey has noticed that children love to see their parents volunteer with them, and if you get the child involved, the parents will follow! Their Kids Care Club has often become a portal to family volunteering.

As Tracey researched community needs in Phoenix, the Foundation for Blind Children (FBC) caught her attention. She found out that the organization goes through hundreds of batteries a month to operate assistive technology and vision resources. The Club created the "Power the Blind" project to inform the public about the need for batteries for FBC. The Club realized that to increase donations they needed to educate the community. They designed fliers and collection boxes and went to local businesses and established authorized battery drop locations. The Club visited the Foundation. By taking a tour of the classrooms and playrooms; using the hands-on Braille equipment and walking sticks, along with watching a video, the kids learned about the difficulties and challenges of being blind. The project was a big success and the Club collected over a year's supply of batteries for the agency. This experience led to collaboration with the school counselor, Pamela Hudgins. Seeking to increase their own school's awareness and sensitivity to the physically challenged and anyone else who looks different on the outside, they presented a skit to the kindergarten through third grade classes entitled, "Respecting Others."

Operation Kids Care was their next creative project. To let U.S. Troops in the Middle East know that they were appreciated they created Holiday postcards and sent them through the Bob Hope Hollywood USO.

Continuing to respond to those outside of Arizona's "Valley of the Sun," the Club learned about Mano Amiga, ("Helping Hands") an organization that builds schools for the underprivileged in Latin America. Recognizing that education is an important part in breaking the cycle of poverty, the club decided that education makes "cents." A lot of Cents! The organization sent them packets of information and little boxes shaped liked schools. By collecting spare change from families and friends, the Club raised $4,000 for Mano Amiga schools in Latin America.

This project brought them back to the plight of other Latin American regions, and in particular, Nogales, Mexico, a Hispanic community not far from Phoenix. A Deacon at their church was making regular visits to the town, which is very poor. The Club decided to reach out to the children of Nogales. They created HeART Boxes. (See Kids Care Clubs Celebrate Kids With HeART). Each HeART Box included arts and crafts items such as construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, stickers, and other supplies. The club also made "Toiletry Bags" for the underprivileged community in Nogales. The bags were filled with soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, and other personal effects. The message, "De un nino que cuida" or "From a kid who cares" was included in the "HeArt boxes" and "Toiletry Bags."

The STA Kids Care Club dedicated its second year of volunteering to the St. Mary's Food Bank, a local food bank. The children worked the production line constructing and taping 2,500 boxes used for packing food and other personal necessities. They created an assembly line along conveyer belts handling approximately 23,400 pounds of food used to stock 560 boxes, which were distributed to low-income families. They sorted and hauled approximately 4,100 pounds of supplies that were provided to a number of agencies throughout the Phoenix community. They arranged 900 bags in crates for frozen meat products to deliver to 900 working-poor families. Throughout the year, they donated nearly 600 hours of their time, dedication, and "hands-on love" to assist the food bank with its needs.

This year, the STA Kids Care Clubs is partnering with three local organizations and spending about 200 hours each month working in local warehouses sorting donations to be distributed locally to those in need. They have taken on this project as they have other service projects in the past two years, with great enthusiasm and commitment.

Each Christmas, they "adopt" a family through St. Vincent de Paul Adopt-a-Family program. They are given a specific family member to shop for. Then in small groups, they go to a variety of stores to select and purchase gifts. This year, they adopted three families. The parents assisted with preparing holiday meals, which are personally delivered to the family with the wrapped gifts. Donations pay for the toys and Tracey found out that the kids love to shop for others. The Kids Care Club has discovered that there is no better gift...then the gift of giving!

Each Kids Care Club meeting begins with camaraderie and a group lunch. Before embarking to their destination, they recite the STA Kids Care Club prayer, "Lord, Fill our hearts with the spirit of Your charity that we may please You by our thoughts and actions. May we show our love for You in all that we do for our brothers and sisters. Make us worthy, Lord, to serve others in our own community, who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them today, through our hands, their daily bread and through our understanding love, give peace and joy."

The Kids Care Club has enjoyed nearly all of the projects that they have participated in - some aspects of the hard work at the food bank are not especially fun, but they realize how important their work is and they keep their commitment. They thrive on the responsibility that is given to them in working at a warehouse. They take an assignment seriously and strive to find the most efficient ways to complete a given task. They like the creative aspect of making cards, placemats for the soup kitchen and decorating gift boxes. They enjoy shopping for underprivileged families during the holidays. One of their favorite elements about Kids Care Club is the ability to work alongside their peers while making a difference in the world. Tracey notes "Their mastery of a task and the joy in serving others is evident with the smiles on their faces following successful completion of a project."

Their next big project will be a project of peace. They are planning to assist the Arizona Chapter of Healing the Children, an organization that secures and makes medical treatment available to seriously ill or physically disabled children from the U.S. and around the world. In the near future, we would like to make "Hope Chests" for a visiting family from Iraq. Their 10-year-old son, an Iraqi, was seriously injured, along with his family, when they stepped on a land mine. The boy is scheduled to come to Phoenix for medical treatment. The Club would like to reach out to him and his family to spread "hope" across the globe.

On being a facilitator, Tracey says, "It has provided me with the opportunity to stand side-by-side with the young people in our school community, to witness first-hand the accomplishments they are capable of achieving. Overwhelmingly, the students demonstrate a remarkable sense of dedication, purpose, and enthusiasm. It is a true privilege to help unlock the doors of volunteerism to the next generation."

We commend The St. Thomas the Apostle Kids Care Club for inspiring their families, school and community through their commitment and enthusiasm to helping others. The members have also discovered the benefits of belonging to a Kids Care Club. To quote club member, Garrett Budnick, "You get to help people and at the same time have fun!"