Junior High Interact Club discovering ways to reach out

Scott Swanson

It’s a sunny afternoon outside Sweet Home Junior High and SHEM Pantry Manager Cindy Rice is surrounded by five girls busily filling planter cups with soil, then inserting seeds.

“What kind of tomato is that?” Rice asks one.

“I’m OK with writing ‘tomato’ a million times,” another participant announces as she busily wields a Sharpie pen.

These are members of the Junior High’s Interact Club, a junior version of the Rotary Club, who are working on a community service project.

The club was founded last year by local Rotary member Larry Horton.

“The Rotary Club last year decided to do something for the Junior High kids,” said Horton, a retired Sweet Home School District superintendent who’s been a Rotary member for 15 years. He said the local Rotary governor suggested that they start a club after Horton inquired about that possibility.

They got off the ground last year with five girls, he said. With some of last year’s members moving on to high school, they’ve got five girls again this year, plus one boy and another thinking about joining up.

Last year was largely about organizing, he said, but this year the club has launched into a variety of community service projects.

“They came up with a mission statement, bylaws, all the regulations they wanted to live by,” Horton said. “Then they selected three projects.”

Vice President Ashley Morrelli said the club kept it local with their first project.

“We cleaned up some parks, specifically Sankey Park,” she said. “We cleaned up vandalism a little bit. We really didn’t have enough time to do much.”

This year, members have chosen three projects to work on: one for their school, a community project and a “world project,” he said.

The school project focused on bathroom privacy, he said. Last year’s club members noticed that stalls in the Junior High’s girls bathrooms lacked locks and some boys stalls were missing doors.

“They wanted to know if the school district could do anything to rectify that,” Horton said. “They’ve been working this year with the district maintenance supervisor; he’s been seeing that those projects are getting done.”

Funding came from the school district, whose staffers have finished nearly all the installations, he said.

“They’re learning how to talk to people, get what you need.”

Their community project, the vegetable seed starts, originated from suggestions Rice offered on how to discuss local needs.

“They decided they wanted to do something to help people who need to be fed here in Sweet Home,” Horton said. “They selected the seedlings project – getting seedling starts going that would be passed on to clients at SHEM. People would actually learn to help feed themselves to some degree.”

Club President Aiyana Grimes, an eighth-grader, said she’s enjoyed the community project.

“I feel like the SHEM clients are really going to enjoy this,” she said. “It’s just very, very empowering when you can sustain yourself.”

Their world project focuses on an annual visit by local dentists to remote tribal people who live in poverty.

Satina Tolman, wife of one of the dentists, and Liz Olsen, a Rotary member who helps out with Interact and whose daughter is a member of the club, both have made the trip. Tolman visited the club and showed pictures of children helped by the local group.

“All the kids, when they left the dentist’s chair, were given a gift of some kind. The kids thought it would be a really good idea if they could help make some of those toys,” Horton said.

Last week club members, assisted by Sweet Home High School Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Suzette Anderson, worked on sewing stuffed “burrito babies” for the dentists to hand out on their next trip, later this year.

“We’ve had lot of cooperation from people in the community who have been willing to help cut out and sew these animals,” Horton said. “It’s a really good project for kids to get involved with.”

Morrelli, an eighth-grader, said they’ve also made rubber band bracelets to go to Guatemala.

“We made 102 bracelets for Guatemala,” she said. “And 32 for Peru.”

Horton said he posted a flier last year after Rotary members approved the Interact extension, but most of the current club members said they were recruited by other members.

Seventh-grader Melody Windom said she got involved earlier this year after a conversation with Sweet Home city Librarian Rose Peda, who suggested she join.

“She wanted me to come,” Melody said. “I like it because we get to help Guatamala kids and help the environment. I like to know we are doing a thing to help others, instead of doing nothing.

“Especially planting the plants – that’s fun too.”

Grimes, who said she moved to Sweet Home last year from Hawaii and is “adjusting to being an Oregonian,” said she enjoys the opportunity to be involved in “a legitimate volunteer organization,” which wasn’t an opportunity she had in school on Maui.

“I really liked making the rubber band bracelets for the kids in Guatemala,” she said. “Ashley and Emily (Terhune) helped me.”

“We’re the speed people,” Ashley said, gesturing at Aiyana. “She’s the pattern (person). We all just really helped each other out.”

She said the Interact Club provides opportunities to help others, which she enjoys.

“It kind of makes me happy that I’m making other people happy,” she said.