Teenage optimism and energy are inspiring. A young person's willingness to volunteer their time and resources speaks highly of the next generation.
Lisle Senior High School recognizes the importance of community service. Its Key Club has 125 students, roughly 23 percent of the student body. Last week, the group helped the Lisle Kiwanis distribute Thanksgiving baskets to families in need. Soon, 40 students will dress as festive North Pole elves to volunteer aboard a Polar Express train and 50 students will help entertain children in need at a local holiday party.
"We also adopted six preschool classes in a Chicago school where those teachers sent us ideas for gifts," said Key Club sponsor and English teacher Courtney Multhaupt.
"Students and faculty then take one of the names and buy the gift for that child. Then our club's executive board will deliver our gifts to the school."
Lion spirit shines in its student council's annual "12 days of Christmas" collection drive.
The entire school competes between individual fifth-period classrooms to collect the most sets. A set consists of 12 cans of food, 11 boxes of food, 10 toiletries, nine dollar bills, eight pairs of socks, seven pairs of gloves, six scarves, five cans of pet food, four packages of baby wipes or diapers, three sweaters, two blankets, and one winter coat. The top three classrooms that assemble the most sets win a pizza party.
The student council will announce the winners Dec. 21. All collected items will go to the Sharing Connection in Downers Grove and a local Animal Humane Society.
Across town, outreach is an important part of the Benet Academy experience, too. Student activities director and English teacher Michael Macaluso works with its student government to spearhead the high school's long-standing traditional Christmas drive.
Growing beards, indentured servants and penny-wars are some of the unique and fun ways the students choose to raise money. Other opportunities include giving a small donation to wear a Christmas sweater or sweatshirt on selected days rather than the Berkeley uniform sweater. The fundraising variety includes a guitar club concert and the drama group's one-act plays all for a donation to the cause.
"We have students dress up as candy cane elves to sell candy during the day, and on another day there are gingerbread people selling gingerbread cookies," Macaluso said. "Students then are allowed to eat the candy and cookies during class."
Macaluso said that during the drive, the school does not change its focus on academics, even while raising money for good causes.
Last year, the high school's 1,300 students raised $54,000 in small increments.
On Dec. 22, the school's Christmas assembly will feature quirky events, music and the big total tally.
Proceeds go to local families, which has always been the focus of the school's Christmas drive, Macaluso said. He sees more students coming out each year on the day they go on a shopping spree for food and gifts.
"Now more than ever, students realize the Christmas drive's end result," Macaluso said. "Today's students are more aware of the bigger picture. It's all about the families we help. It is an awareness that will last long after they leave Benet."
Benet English teacher and Outreach sponsor Elizabeth Byers helps organize student outreach projects through the year. The list of activities include helping at a city food pantry, tutoring young students, playing games with seniors, collecting school supplies, hosting a food drive, making blankets for sick children and working at a carnival game night at SEASPAR in Downers Grove.
Each year, a group of students spend their spring break helping the impoverished in Appalachia.
Representing seven junior high and high schools in the area from grades six to 12, The Lisle Teens With Character is a local service organization and an active part of the Lisle Community Character Alliance. Its current membership of a little more than 100 young people is an all-time high. Even washing cars is fun with LTWC friends and a cause that benefits others.
"We raised $262 at our Sept. 11 car wash, which was donated to Operation Support Our Troops," said adult club moderator Lori Mandel. "At our Sleep Out Saturday Night, we raised $1,900 and the community's awareness of homelessness in DuPage County."
Next, LTWC will lend a hand to light 2,000 luminaries for Lisle's winter festivities that include Lights of Lisle and Once Upon a Christmas Dec. 4 and 5. The teen group also will help Santa on the popular Polar Express ride into the big city.
Performing good deeds is a mainstay of LTWC. At a Relay For Life for the American Cancer Society, the group was recognized as the event's top fundraiser. Any teen may join LTWC by signing up at lisletwc.org.
Adults who guide teens through that short seven-year span between ages 13 and 20 know there are many accomplishments and challenges for young people. Local churches also sponsor events where teens can learn that volunteering time, talents and energy seeds a feel-good attitude that will spark their compassion and commitment.
A wonderful trait that teens have is an energized, fun-loving spirit that can move mountains when given the proper opportunity to flourish.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. E-mail her at email@example.com.