Fox Lake students give back in Day of Service

Fox Lake students give back in Day of Service

Oct. 5, 2017

FOX LAKE – It’s just after 9 a.m. Sept. 29, but the Fox Lake Community Garden already is buzzing with activity. Groups of middle schoolers fan out throughout the garden, weeding, raking, mulching. It’s hard work, but laughter fills the air and smiles are readily passed around. 

It is Fox Lake Elementary School District 114’s Day of Service, and the community garden is one of several locations throughout the village where Stanton Middle School students are volunteering their time and energy. While the older children are working out in the community, students at Lotus, the district’s elementary school, are working in-house on other community projects, such as preparing appreciation kits for local police and fire stations and creating superhero capes for children in hospitals or blankets for Project Linus. 

Stanton Principal Jeff Sefcik works alongside his students at the community garden, shouting words of encouragement. 

“Work that forearm, Gabe,” he called to one student, eliciting a round of laughter from his students. 

This is the district’s third year of conducting their day of service and the first year both of the district’s schools – Lotus and Stanton – joined forces in the event that raises money for the schools’ PTA and teaches students the value of community service.

In past years, Sefcik said the schools did the traditional fundraisers – selling wrapping paper, candies, etc. – but pocketed only 40 percent of the profit. Three years ago, they decided to see whether they could raise more money by trying something different. 

“[We asked ourselves] how can we get out in the community and make a difference and show our kids community service and anyone can make a difference – big or small, doesn’t matter who you are – while also supporting our PTA,” Sefcik said. 

He found the answer to that question at an Illinois Principals Association conference during a breakout session by Lee Hoffman, principal at Peoria’s Morton Junior High School. Hoffman spoke about a community-focused fundraiser he organizes each year for his school. Sefcik brought that idea back to District 114, and Stanton ran with it.

“We kind of mirrored our program along with theirs,” Stanton administrative assistant Jill Becmer said. “Kind of where we got the idea of the police stations and the fire stations and YMCAs and places that could use our help.”

The event has grown both in size and success each year. This year, the district raised more than $30,000 in donations, clearing their goal by more than $5,000. 

Donovan Day from the Village of Fox Lake surveys the activity at the garden, calling out directions whenever assistance is needed. 

“It’s important to get [the kids] involved in community service early on,” he said. “It’s special for me to see kids in the school do something like this. I think it’s important. I think the schools are doing something right.”

Sefcik’s enthusiasm for both the event and the kids involved is evident to everyone in the garden. The fundraising for the event began just two and a half weeks earlier when the school year began. During those two weeks, Stanton students submitted suggestions to a comment box in the cafeteria – random, often embarrassing deeds Sefcik must complete at an assembly the Monday after the Day of Service. 

“Last year I got taped to the wall with gorilla tape,” he said. “This year the idea was dress me up like Elsa and I sing ‘Let It Go’ at an assembly on Monday. So then our top three fundraisers – we have three kids who raised over $500 – so they’re gonna be onstage throwing snow at me.”

A blue dress bought from Goodwill, old gym shoes covered with blue glitter and a makeshift wig made from yellow yarn complete the costume that await him at school Monday morning. 

“I can’t wait,” he said. 

“He’s your atypical principal and it’s awesome,” Becmer said. “The kids just love him and they love being in school just because of him. It’s more like a family and a home. It’s a great thing. “

Between the two schools, nearly 900 students are working on some project during the day, either in-house at Lotus or off-site from Stanton. The Day of Service also has paired with Promote Fox Lake this year – a local nonprofit organization devoted to beautifying and promoting the community – by planting about 3,000 daffodil bulbs along a local bike path. 

“It’s grown a little bit every year, we’ve raised a little bit more money every year, the kids have gotten more involved every year,” Sefcik said. “It’s awesome.”

See the Lake County Journal article here