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UCPS Gives Back: Parkwood High Beta Club spreads the warmth this season

Covering others with care

An annual tradition at Parkwood High turns the school into a warm and fuzzy hub of kindness. It's called the Spread the Warmth Drive, and it's existed since 2012, thanks to a former student, Aiden Sweeney. From a simple request for blankets, it's now a full-blown mission to bring comfort in the winter cold, gathering not just blankets but also new socks, gloves and jackets.

Vinson Covington, a history teacher and one of the Beta Club sponsors, shared the drive's beginnings. "The student had seen a homeless man who looked cold and came to me and asked what we could do to help. We tried collecting jackets but found, at the time, that the blankets did better. In time, it has expanded."

From November 13 to December 15, the school becomes a donation hotspot. Students, families and the community drop off items at various convenient locations around the school. It's like a holiday party, but instead of bringing cookies, everyone's pitching in to spread some much-needed warmth. All the donations go to the Union County Community Shelter.

The Beta Club, the driving force behind this campaign, is an organization that goes beyond academic excellence. It serves as a platform for students to cultivate a sense of responsibility towards their community. Joining the Beta Club is not merely an extracurricular activity; it's an invitation to get involved in creating positive change.

"Beta Club found me. I was in Ms. Diaz's English I class in my ninth-grade year, and she was like, 'Hey, are you going to join or not?' and I did," said Karma Martini, an 11th-grader and club event coordinator. "We are a community who often meet, so you make friends quickly. You bond over the service and the activities. It's a big commitment, but it's worth it."

Students who choose to be part of the club and engage in initiatives like the Spread the Warmth Drive discover firsthand the profound impact they can have on people in need. Beyond the immediate benefits of providing much-needed items, these projects instill a sense of civic duty and compassion that lasts a lifetime.

"I enjoy giving back to the community and having volunteer opportunities," said 10th-grader Giani Gutierrez and club event coordinator. "It's what pulled me to join Beta."

The club has many activities throughout the year, too.

"We host a canned food drive for other organizations or our school's food pantry, sometimes twice a year," said 11th grader and club vice president Jasmine Horn. "We host a Breakfast with Santa, where kids and their families can come on a Saturday morning for breakfast and take pictures with Santa for a small fee. They can enjoy crafts and games, too."

Covington explained that the breakfast event funds support the Beta Club, allowing students to attend their annual state and national conventions. It started as a parent-driven initiative at a church, later transitioning to being hosted by the club at the school. One of his favorite projects they do is their campus cleanup project.

"The last cleanup we did, a guy stopped and told us how nice it was to see kids outside picking up the trash. He spoke with me for a bit and found out he was a business owner within the community," said Covington. "People notice when we are out and about helping. We also do a Toy Drive in the spring that benefits the children's hospital. They've told us how much they appreciate what we do."

All three club officers cited leadership as one of the things they will take with them no matter where they go. They've become skilled at creating excitement around their activities by clearly communicating the purpose and benefits of each event. Through straightforward announcements, eye-catching promotional materials, and sharing their genuine enthusiasm, they've developed a knack for capturing interest and encouraging active participation.

"We've learned to take initiative no matter the project or event," said Giani.

Giani has her sights set on a career in either computer science or archeology, recognizing that the problem-solving and analytical skills she hones in the Beta Club will be invaluable in these fields. Karma, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian, views his participation in the club as a chance to cultivate essential skills like compassion and teamwork, crucial for animal care and collaboration with fellow professionals. Meanwhile, Jasmine, leaning towards law, understands that the leadership and communication skills cultivated in the Beta Club will undoubtedly serve her well in the legal world.

"Service is the satisfaction of knowing you've brightened someone's day. They may never know you, and you may never know them, which creates an indirect but powerful connection to the community," said Karma.