ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Students in Rockford are sharing the gift of education with more than just the kids they have already met in the Dominican Republic — they’re sharing it with future generations.
They are part of the Interact Club at Rockford High School, focused on community service. The local rotary club had the idea to create the group, led by teacher Kelly Gardner.
“The students hold blood drives, tutor at the elementary schools, we hold babysitting fun nights so parents can get a night out,” Gardner said of the fundraising the group has done.
Once they reach their goal with the club at Saugatuck High School, they will have raised nearly $80,000 to help the people of the Dominican Republic.
It started out as a clean water project. The club was buying bio sand water filters, which the students took to the Dominican.
“We fell in love with one of the bateys, which is the word for village, where they cut the sugar cane. We started developing relationship with people there. We asked them what is your biggest need, besides clean water? They said they wanted a school for their kids,” explained Gardner.
The people told her the only way for their kids to have a different future, other than cutting sugar cane, was to get an education.
So, the club started raising money about four years ago to help the people in the village see their dream come to life. Every summer since then, the money students in Rockford have raised has led to the building of a new room what used to be a single-room school house. It now has three rooms, which can house first through sixth grades, with one more room to finish in the next year.
Charlotte Best has been in the Interact Club since her freshman year, inspired by visits from older students to her elementary school. She went on the most recent trip to the Dominican in February to help do work in the village. A medical group was there at the same time and used her Spanish skills to help translate.
“I was able to help test people and give them eyeglasses, which was a really transformative experience. The moment you put them on, and you see their face just light up. ‘Oh my gosh, things are actually in focus, I can see my child’s face,” she said.
Best had been involved with fundraising before and always knew that the money went to a good cause but had never seen it in action in person.
“Going down and seeing that these kids are learning to read and write that many of them might go on to high school and eventually college. The fact that they’re developing so many skills that they wouldn’t have had it not been for the school, that’s really life changing,” she explained.
It has been life-changing for Best too. Now she wants to go into medicine and be involved in community service like Doctors without Borders.
Seeing the students carry on their good works after high school has been one of Gardner’s biggest rewards.
“(Best) doesn’t surprise me at all. She is going to change the world, but so many of the Interact kids have become dentists and teachers and have gone on to serve all over the world then come back here to our community. It’s super rewarding to see that they’ve continued to grow or give like they started here,” she said.
Interact Club leaders from Rockford and Saugatuck High School’s plan to take the students back to the Dominican in 2021 to see the finished school. They also hope to raise enough money to build a playground and donate supplies to the teachers.