Roland-Story Middle School’s Builders Club is collecting donated new toys for their version of “Blessings for Blank” from now through Dec. 20. The toys will be delivered before Christmas break. The mission of this project is to brighten the days of young patients who are fighting big battles at Blank Children’s Hospital. Whether you are a parent, student, staff or community member, please feel free to bring a new toy, game, puzzle, or coloring book and colors to the main office collection spot at Roland-Story Middle School.

“I believe that ‘Blessings for Blank’ is important because it is an opportunity for us to give kids hope and also provide something they can enjoy while they are in the hospital day after day,” said seventh-grader Colby Spainhower.

“When kids are in the hospital, especially during this time of year, bills make Christmas season tough financially,” said sixth-grader Lucas Wuebker. “By providing a donated gift, we are able to help kids and their families by sharing a donated present for Christmas.”

“Blessings for Blank is a caring thing for us to do for kids at Blank. It shows the commitment our community has for kids who are going through a tough time, and it will be so neat to bring a smile to their faces,” said fifth-grader Brooklyn Richardson.

“Middle school students are at a transitional point of their lives, and they are beginning to find their place in the world,” said Michael Oleson, RSMS school counselor.

Builders Club is a place where students can make a difference in the lives of others and in their own. Students meet lifelong friends, and are provided a place to do more than students ever thought they could.

Builders Club is a volunteer service group open to any student at RSMS who wants to give back to their community and their school. It operates with an advisor, Michael Oleson; President, eighth grade rep Colin Hansen; Vice-President, seventh grade rep Ezra Almond; Co-Secretaries, sixth grade reps Beckett Haglund and Lucas Wuebker; and a Treasurer, fifth grade rep Wesley Hansen.

Builders Club is a student-led organization that teaches leadership skills through service to others. This service group operates under school regulations and draws its members from the student body of fifth through eighth grade. The first Builders Club in the world was chartered in 1975. Today, there are more than 1,600 clubs in Aruba, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Jamaica, Korea, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles, Philippines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

Around the world, more than 45,000 Builders Club members are making their community and the world a better place. Builders Club is a member of the Kiwanis International family. The local Roland Kiwanis Chapter provides sponsorship of the Roland-Story Middle School Builders Club, and provides a member from their group to attend our meetings to assist with projects. The members of Builders Club learn to work together and develop servant-leader skills as they serve their school and community.

Builders Club is a student-led community. It’s structured on the local club level but is supported by the Kiwanis International Office in Indianapolis, Ind., which provides guidelines, programs and opportunities to relate to teenagers from countries worldwide. Kiwanis International empowers people at every stage of life to become competent, capable and compassionate leaders by helping them learn to help others. Through its Service Leadership Programs, Kiwanis teaches young leaders new ways to change the world by serving one child and one community at a time.

“I was approached by a very respected Kiwanis Club member and community-focused individual partway through my first year at Roland-Story. I was asked if I would consider being a Builders Club Advisor. It was shared that the Roland Kiwanis Chapter had hoped to get Builders Club up and running for years. When I learned about the great leadership opportunity this could provide for our students, I said that I was all in with this, and would love to get it up and running during my second year as the School Counselor at Roland-Story Middle School,” Oleson said. “Service Leadership is a vital step in service learning. It is my personal belief that once a young person fully understands the concept of learning by helping others, he or she begins to grow personally as a lifelong leader.”

The Roland-Story group officially became a charter member of Builders Club through Kiwanis International during the 2015-2016 school year.

“During the first year, our average attendance was running around 26 students. Each year has brought new growth, and we currently run a steady average attendance in the mid-40s range. While schedules before school can sometimes be inhibiting for regular attendance, Builders Club has had 68 members attend at least two meetings this year,” Oleson said. “This is a great statistic because it means that about 21 percent of our youth in grades 5-8 are volunteering to lead and serve, even when it means waking up earlier and getting a ride to attend our 7:45 a.m. meetings. We meet the first and third Thursdays of each month from 7:45-8:15, and more frequently if projects require more time.”

Builders Club has embarked on some fun leadership and servant-oriented projects. A fun tradition that was established is creating May Baskets for all staff members at the school. Students decide who is part of the assembly line from filling the baskets, to making the message and affixing it to the baskets, to popping the popcorn and making the deliveries.

“Last year, we started the tradition of creating Valentine’s Day greetings and then taking them to residents at Bethany Life Communities in Story City,” Oleson said. “While creating the paper greetings is important, I have found great value in the intergenerational communication that occurs with this event.”

The group had a successful movie night where the public could come to the school and enjoy a movie and some popcorn, with the funds raised being used to provide the needed financial backing to complete some of our projects. One such funded project that was deemed a “must” was bringing the pond in the school’s beautiful courtyard back to life.

“We had a unique situation last winter where the pond heater was not able to be located, which was a bit alarming because the pond was home to several fish. There was a belief by some that the fish would survive just fine because they had done so in years past,” Oleson said. “Well, we ended up with some pretty brisk cold snaps, and needless to say the once active swimmers turned to fish sticks. While it was definitely a sad moment, Builders Club took this as an opportunity as a service and learning project to bring the pond back to life. To date, we have over 20 beautiful koi and goldfish swimming in the pond that were added the end May to their new homes. And the best part is, with the recent cold snap, they really seem to appreciate their new friend — a floating heater.”

Builders Club recently assisted with a Roland Kiwanis Project where they assembled goody bags for Santa to hand out to young people. Children had an opportunity to visit him at the Roland Public Library when he made a stop to meet young people before he helped with the tree lighting ceremony in Roland.

“When I asked Builders Club to brainstorm ideas in smaller groups and then share out with the large group about their ideas for service projects earlier in the fall, one major idea that came out loud and clear was to continue the Blessings for Blank project that was started by a now Roland-Story High School graduate. Natalie Tryon is the true inspiration who connected so well with Builders Club during her senior year. Natalie was a guest speaker for us, and her passion for serving others resonated deeply with our middle school students. I believe it was Natalie’s second J-Term project of Blessings for Blank,” Oleson said.

Tryon wanted to increase the number of donated gifts she could secure, and then transport and provide the toy donations to children at Blank Children’s Hospital. Builders Club learned of this opportunity to humbly serve others (a Roland-Story district core value), and asked her to speak with them regarding how they could be helpful. She shared of her time at Blank, and what it meant for her to receive a gift while she was a hospital patient in her past. Builders Club did their part by bringing in new toys and promoting the opportunity for all students and staff at Roland-Story Middle School.

“It was the impact that Natalie made on the lives of these young leaders that inspired them to continue the tradition Natalie began,” Oleson said. “Such a classic example of a young leader inspiring young leaders.”

The club’s recent meetings have found members organizing what this could be like for them as a group. They decided that they needed to start with determining a collection time period, having a safe place to keep the toy donations on display, and then how to proceed with delivery to Blank Children’s Hospital. They processed what the delivery of the toy donations to Blank Children’s Hospital could look like. While it would be easy to just have Oleson drive to Blank before Christmas and drop off the the toys, he suggested that there would be some great value in having some Builders Club members travel with to not only carry in the donations, but also to meet and interact with some of the young patients at Blank Children’s Hospital. Those attending would be selected by a random drawing of Builders Club members.

“We discussed why this would be a valuable experience, and the students shared how getting to see a new face and having a conversation could mean a lot to the young patients,” Oleson said. “I could not agree more, because the Christmas season can be a challenging time for those who are not home for the holidays. And we all benefit from positive interactions with people regardless of the time of year.”

“This Builders Club Project will help kids be a little happier at Christmas,” said fifth-grader Caty Erichsen.

“Builders Club is hoping to be able to provide lots of toys to kids in the hospital and Blank. We want to remind them that they are loved, and also to stay positive because a positive attitude will help them get better,” said fifth-grader Ainsley Johnson.

“I am so incredibly proud of this group of young leaders, and am inspired by their heart, compassion, and purpose. It is both refreshing and exciting to be the advisor of a group like this because I can see firsthand the leadership that is growing and developing,” Oleson said.