Rylee Schenkel could teach a course on effective leadership.
For the moment, though, Rylee is as busy as any fifth-grader needs to be. The president of the Early Act Club at Holland Elementary School in Fort Wayne has to think beyond three service projects this year, and leave things in order for August when he moves on to the halls of Jefferson Middle School.
When he chaired a recent meeting under the supervision of fifth-grade adviser Lizzie Pope, he helped to direct the enthusiasm to the ultimate goal of the Kids Against Hunger fundraiser. That morning, he had taken his turn selling Blow Pops along the drop-off curb. With a goal of $500, the club hoped to fund 2,000 meals to donate and ship to people they likely will never meet.
It’s not about the candy, or even the money, Rylee remarked. It’s about kids who need those meals. Despite setbacks, and with confidence in support from Principal J.R. Ankenbruck, the club pushed forward toward that goal. Hands shot toward the activities room ceiling when Pope asked who would be selling suckers the next morning and the next. Rylee brought the suckers box back to the activities room for the convenience of supportive guests.
“I like being a leader,” Rylee later explained to those guests. “I don’t like being a follower; that’s just how I am. Next year I want to lead a group.”
He has seen the growth since just a year ago, when he was vice president. “This group is excited,” he said. “I enjoy it because what we’re doing this year is more than we completed last year. And then helping people around the world by giving them food is going to be really fun.” He was glad to see the enthusiasm rekindled, after sales seemed to plateau. “I think of it as a dollar can save four lives because you can’t live without food, so those [meals] are saving lives around the world,” he said.
He complimented the club and the whole school coming together for a purpose, such as helping others in need.
The third-graders can surprise you, because they arrive ready to do their own talking, he said. “They’re all so creative.”
The Anthony Wayne Rotary Club sponsors the club, coordinating with Pope and fellow adviser Ashlie Simpson. Rotary President Deb Conklin attended a recent Early Act meeting. Former President Carole Keplar, who helped to organize the Holland club, also was on hand.
Pope led the club in the Pledge of Allegiance. The members also recited Rotary’s 4-Way Test of truth and fairness. They rang the Rotary bell.
“They brainstorm service project ideas. They discuss the task. Then they take that list back to their classes, they share the ideas, and they discuss what the classes want to do, and they bring that back to the group,” Conklin said. “I’ve just been so impressed with these children and their teachers regarding their commitment to service. They actually wrote about why service is important to them and why they wanted to be a part of this leadership group. They had to agree to give up their lunch period and their recess [twice a month]. They bring their lunch to the meeting room.”
“They’re just really very positive,” Conklin said.
Each classroom in Grades 3, 4 and 5 sends a representative to Early Act. “There are probably three or four kids who are interested in each classroom,” Pope said. The teacher reads the applications and selects those who are especially respectful and responsible. Four officers also are chosen from Grades 3 and 4. Students in the younger grades are invited to support most projects.
Pope said enthusiasm is especially apparent in those who are back for a second year. “They have great ideas but somebody has to wrangle them down and tell them this is probably more than we can chew,” she said.
Early Act is coordinating three projects. Like Rotary itself, the club serves internationally, in the community and at home. The Kids Against Hunger international projet will be wrapped up in May. Then older students, parents and other volunteers will gather to clean up the nature classroom beside the school. Already, the club has led the school in gathering donations of hundreds of hygiene items for the Fort Wayne Community Schools Family and Community Engagement Center. At that club’s recent meeting, boxes of toothpaste, shampoo and the like covered three tables, waiting for transport to the distribution center, to benefit the homeless population and students in foster care.
The club gathered around the boxes, holding plastic sponges, hairbrushes and soap and smiling for the camera.
“It’s cool seeing their excitement in helping others,” Pope said.
Then there’s Rylee, the leader, giving credit where credit is due. “But we couldn’t have done any of this without the teachers,” he told a guest.