Interact club helps others locally and globally

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Knapp

For one of their local service projects, students from Riverview Gabriel Richard High School’s Rotary-sponsored Interact Club donated to several local families in need. The students delivering gifts to the family of a young recipient (whose name is withheld to protect the family’s privacy) are junior Carole Walsh (left), senior Ting Yan, juniors Alexander Bernardo and Olivia Suski, and seniors Amanda Champagne and Jamie Reidy.

Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW – For Jim Lyons, a school club is not just something to put on a college transcript.

It’s a way to help people down the street and across the globe.

A Gabriel Richard High School sophomore, Lyons volunteers through the school’s Interact service club. Sponsored by local Rotary clubs, the groups, comprising teens, completes service projects with local and international focuses.

Lyons said his commitment to the club’s mission of service was strengthened during a recent food drive.

“Last year, when the lady from the food pantry came up with her truck and we were loading all the food in… that just felt really good. This isn’t just service hours… it’s helping others,” Lyons, a Wyandotte resident, said.

According to its web site, Interact also tries to teach its teen members leadership skills, respect for others and the value of individual responsibility and hard work.

Jim Lyons said his father, Mark Lyons, a Wyandotte Rotarian, approached Gabriel Richard officials to start a local Interact Club when his son was a freshman.

He said the club provides students with many opportunities to earn service hours, which are required by Gabriel Richard High School. Freshmen must earn six service hours their second semester, and sophomores, juniors and seniors must fulfill 12 service hours a year.

In addition to fulfilling her service hour requirement, senior Terni Fiorelli of Flat Rock said that she likes helping out in the community, and she hopes her volunteer work will look good on her college applications.

She said many of her classmates joined Interact when the local club formed last year to earn service hours as well.

Campus ministry director and adult moderator Cheryl Knapp said that during their first school year as a club they had about 60 members and met twice a month.

This school year, with about 100 members, they communicate through email updates and morning announcements at the school and hold project committee meetings as needed.

During their first local service project in 2010, they collected canned food for the Downriver Community Food Pantry just before Thanksgiving.

Their first international project raised $679 for Haitian relief through a lunchtime ice cream sundae sale and a jean day, which let students make a monetary donation to wear jeans to school instead of the school uniform. The funds raised went directly to a nurse with local ties working in Haiti with the relief effort.

This school year the students worked with Volunteers of America to supply three local families in need (one from Riverview and two from Wyandotte) with Christmas food and gifts.

Fiorelli said that when she helped purchase gifts for the families it became less of a chore on her holiday to-do list and more of an emotionally satisfying experience.

“When I was buying for the families… it was just like another thing that I had to do,” Fiorelli said. “But then after it was all over and I had bought everything it felt good knowing that you’re helping someone who can’t afford Christmas for their family.”

The Interact Club’s international project this year will help the Nicaraguan Children of the Dump make a better life for themselves and their families.

“They live in a dump, literally,” Lyons said. “They have to go around and they find wallpaper. They wrap them up into these little beads and make bracelets out of them.”

Lyons said the Gabriel Richard Interact club gets boxes with 100 bracelets each to sell. The proceeds help provide the Nicaraguan Children of the Dump and their families with shelter and basic needs.

In addition to the hands-on service aspect of their local Interact club, senior Nicole Jakubik of Brownstown Township said she enjoys attending Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conferences, which bring together Interact club members from different schools.

She said the conference sessions provide her with inspiration and ideas for the Gabriel Richard Interact club. Local conferences were held at Schoolcraft College in Livonia during November for the past two years.

The conferences remind her how much of an opportunity she has to make a difference in the lives of others through Interact club service projects, she said.

“When I went there I just kind of realized after listening to everyone talk about their experiences with Interact… that I had the potential to make more of a difference,” Jakubik said.

She added that she learned a lot of leadership skills as well.

“After coming back from that I felt that I really did have the power to make a difference in the school and the community,” Jakubik said.

Lyons agreed, and has been able to convince some of his friends of the group’s ability to make a difference.

“A lot of my friends if they need help with their service hours I tell them to join this,” Lyons said. “And they’re like ‘Eh, it doesn’t seem like it does much,’” Lyons said. “But it really does so much and I try to convince them of that… it definitely helps a lot.”