Brook Park Principal Mike Sorensen drew the line at wearing Green Bay Packers gear. He’d rather have his head shaved than suffer the indignity of wearing the green and gold.
On Friday afternoon, Sorensen made good on that choice as he sat in the gymnasium of the LaGrange Park school in front of hundreds of students — who in the span of three weeks had raised more than $6,000 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“I’m so proud of all the kids at Brook Park School,” said Sorensen. “They’re learning that the community is not just inside Brook Park School but in the world around us.”
The school’s fundraising campaign, “Pennies for Patients,” had its roots in Brook Park’s new K-Kids Club, a service club modeled on and started by Kiwanis International. Brook Park art teacher Lynda Nadkarni, of LaGrange Park, and third-grade teacher Christina Tuscher, of Riverside, are the moderators of K-Kids.
Nadkarni, a member of the LaGrange Kiwanis Club, has been the moderator of the Builders Club, another Kiwanis-related group at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield, for the past five years.
Last year, parents at Brook Park asked Nadkarni whether she might be able to organize a similar service group for younger children at the elementary school. K-Kids debuted in the fall. It boasts about 70 student members in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“The club has the same mission as the Builders Club,” said Nadkarni, “building leadership through community service but geared toward younger students.”
The club meets monthly, splitting its time participating in team-building activities and small community-service projects. The club has made blankets for ill children through Project Linus, prepared soup packets for seniors serviced by PeopleCare, raised money for victims of Hurricane Sandy through an organization called Shells for the Shores and made gifts for the homeless who attended the BEDS Christmas dinner.
“The club has really exceeded my expectations,” said Nadkarni. “It’s been challenging to keep up with all their ideas.”
Pennies for Patients grew from a wish by club members to do something to help sick children. A former Brook Park student had suffered from leukemia and Tuscher had contacts in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A representative from the society talked to club members back in November, and the ball started rolling.
The club brainstormed ways to raise funds, settling on boxes in each classroom to collect spare change. The Builders Club at Gross School also threw its support behind the effort. Students provided daily announcements about the fundraiser along with facts about the leukemia and lymphoma.
Nadkarni said that school fundraising campaigns typically net about $900 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. But Pennies for Patients was different.
First-grader Ben Pondel, who was honored at the Friday assembly where Sorensen got his head shaved, raised more than $500. And Gina Tracy’s fourth-grade class collected more than $2,000.
The campaign had personal meaning for Tracy. Diagnosed with lymphoma eight years ago, Tracy is a survivor who has participated in annual fundraising efforts for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“I know how many lives have been touched in this community by cancer,” said Tracy.
For the past five years, she has organized a “Strike Out Blood Cancer” candlelight bowling fundraiser. That fundraiser is on hiatus this year, but Tracy promised to triple the donations through her Strike Out Blood Cancer group.
“I think it’s made us a stronger community,” Tracy said. “I’m seeing kids getting involved who don’t normally get involved. It’s really the K-Kids who brought this out in our school. Until now, there was no organized group dedicated to helping other people. It’s so important that kids are aware of all of the problems in the community.”