NEWTON - United Way of Jasper County and Newton High School Student Council have teamed up to launch a new program aimed at encouraging students to get involved and make a difference in their community.
The program, Cardinals United, launched with the new school year and will offer Newton students the opportunity to earn a varsity letter in community service. The idea was presented to the local United Way by members of the student council.
"The students really spearheaded the idea of developing service programs at the school," said Kelly Tremel, NHS teacher and student council adviser. "We have a great group of students who recognize the impact that they along with classmates could have on the community."
Cardinals United, which name recognizes both the Newton mascot and United Way, was a joint effort between student council members, student council advisers Tremel and Randy Mills and UWJC. It is part of the new Cardinals Care initiative, which includes the Silver Cord program.
"When asked if United Way could help develop a service program with the students it was an immediate 'Yes!'" said Jessica Lowe Vokes, UWJC Executive Director. "The opportunity to engage teens in helping positively impact Jasper County residents is an amazing one and will have a lasting and powerful effect on the community."
Students will earn a letter by volunteering at various non-profit organizations throughout the year and recording the hours served. Volunteer hours can be completed through United Way events and programs, and at area non-profits, churches and through school activities like Red Pride Service Day. To earn a letter for the 2018-19 school year, students must complete 75 service hours. Students who earn their letter will be recognized at a special banquet hosted by United Way.
"I believe, in addition to making a difference in Jasper County, the program will really show the students how much they can accomplish," Lowe Vokes said. "Sometimes young people are overlooked as far as what they can do. I think Cardinals United will be an empowering experience for those who take part."
The program was unveiled during a series of assemblies and students had the opportunity to learn more during their lunch break on Thursday. More than 70 students signed up to learn about volunteer opportunities and Cardinals United.
"Our goal is to have at least 20 students complete the hours required for their varsity letter during the first year of the program," Tremel said. "Twenty NHS students completing 75 hours of volunteer work will equal 1,500 hours. That is a tremendous benefit to the organizations and people who will be served by the students."
Modeled after similar varsity letter programs hosted by United Ways around the country, Cardinals United has been tailored to fit the local high school. It will focus not only on United Way programs but allow students to pursue volunteer opportunities with organizations they are passionate about or want to learn more about through hands on experiences.
"Whether it is organizing a blood drive, collecting for the local food bank, lending a hand at the animal shelter or being part of a mission trip, I did not want to limit the students ability to have an impact" Lowe Vokes said. "We all have different skills and talents and I hope the students will be able to use theirs in ways that are meaningful to them."
While currently only at NHS, Lowe Vokes said she is meeting with WEST Academy Principal Bret Miller to discuss expanding the program and hopes other Jasper County schools also will get involved.
"My hope is all school districts in Jasper County will become part of the varsity letter program," she said. "I'd love to see Bolts United, Tigerhawks United, Mustangs United and Hawks United become a reality in the near future."
NHS students who are interested in learning more about Cardinals United can contact Tremel or Mills at NHS or the United Way at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due Sept. 17 to Tremel.
"I think this program is full of potential," Tremel said. "I hope parents and families will encourage their students and support them in their efforts to earn a letter in service. We want the students to know they can truly have a profound impact for good and we want everyone to support them in their efforts."
Executive Director Jessica Lowe has been with United Way of Jasper County since 2014. Prior to her time with the UWJC, Lowe was an award-winning journalist and a marketing director for a non-profit.