[heading] by MICHELLE TREMBLAY [/heading]

Last fall, a group of parents to Chaparral Elementary School students formed Kids in Action, an organization dedicated to teaching young students the importance of giving back to the community. “A parent many years back had wanted to provide service opportunities for the children, so the PTA joined with a national organization which coordinates monthly service projects for members,” said parent member Dan Luken. “It was a nice organization, but we did have to pay dues.” So, Dan and fellow parents – Keri Sarojak, Jill Cleveland and Leanne Mashouf – decided that this was something they could organize on their own and as a result created Kids in Action.

Meetings for the group occur on the first Wednesday of every month during the school lunch break and so far the turnout has been exceptional. “The kids show up to our tables over their lunch break, sign in and help out on the project,” said Dan. “We have had 483 kids participate in at least one event this year, 72% of the student body, with 84 students participating in all 5 [events], 13% of the student population.”

The student members are encouraged to provide input on project ideas – something of which is a large part of the group’s success. As a matter of fact, the Youth Leadership Team was recently created to be responsible for choosing next year’s projects, with the guidance of the parent volunteers. “Students had to completea questionnaire and essay on why they would like to be on the leadership team,” said Dan. “Twelve students were then selected for this first group of leaders. The Leadership Team this year helped plan and run our April event which was raising money and making five blankets for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”

Kids in Action’s first event took place in November, with students donating hand-decorated placemats to seniors residing at the Palomar Skilled Nursing facility. Other successful events have included: making lunch and conductinga canned food drive for the homeless, creating uplifting cards for children at local hospitals, putting together toiletry kits for members of the military and a school clean-up.

One of the most rewarding parts of leading the members of Kids in Action, explained Dan, has been “watching the kids tackle a project with so much energy and enthusiasm.” In May the kids were rewarded for all their hard work with a well-deserved ice cream social.