Rivals team up on Day of Caring

Grand Haven Area Public Schools and Spring Lake Public Schools may be rivals in the sports arena, but the two districts teamed up in a friendlier competition on Thursday during the annual United Way Day of Caring. Michelle Thyfault, assistant director of development and communication of the Greater Ottawa County United Way, dreamed up a school swap for the annual volunteering event after a national United Way conference in May. She talked with both school district superintendents, who were thrilled with the idea.
Kyle Moroney
Sep 16, 2011

 

“This year, in Michigan particular … the education system has seen a lot of cuts,” Thyfault said. “This sends a feel-good message about working together.”

A team from Spring Lake schools was assigned to spruce up the landscaping at GHAPS’ Lakeshore Middle School on Cutler Street; while a team from GHAPS pulled weeds, raked and trimmed bushes at Spring Lake High School in Spring Lake Township.

SLPS Superintendent Dennis Furton said this is the first time the district has organized a team for the annual community volunteer day. He thought the idea of the two school districts on opposite sides of the bridge swapping sides and helping each other out was a great plan.

“We’ve developed a close partnership with Grand Haven Area Public Schools,” Furton said. “We know that both districts benefit when we work together.”

Furton and 11 other Spring Lake schools employees rolled up their sleeves, put on yard gloves, and bagged between 25 and 30 leaves and other brush within the nearly four hours of outdoor volunteer work. They also planted about 200 tulips, as well as daffodils and pruned trees throughout the front and along the side of the school.

“Everyone’s working hard and getting stuff done,” Furton said of his fellow Laker volunteers.

Ben Lewakowski, principal of Spring Lake Intermediate School, said he pulled a lot of weeds and cut down a lot of grass at Lakeshore Middle School on Thursday.

“I pulled out a monstrous (tree) stump. It was a great endeavor,” he joked. “But it’s all for the children.

Kelly Ortquist, a fifth-grade teacher at Spring Lake Intermediate School volunteering for the Day of Caring, said: "I think it’s great. It’s nice to make it into a friendly competition — and we know it’s for a good cause."

The SLPS group took a short break from their diligent yard work Thursday morning to enjoy refreshments and cookies purchased by their Buccaneer rivals.

“I think we have to give back to the community and the school districts should work together and showcase each other’s school district,” said Peg Panici, Spring Lake food service director.

Panici added that the Spring Lake school district baked cookies for their blue and gold volunteers.

Thyfault said there were 780 people spread out in 60 locations throughout the county volunteering for Thursday’s Day of Caring. The volunteers were divided into 80 teams.

This is the first year that the schools swapped staff, according to Greater Ottawa County United Way officials.

Grand Haven Superintendent Keith Konarska, wearing work gloves and a sweatshirt, said the annual volunteer day represents the area well.

“The Day of Caring really speaks to the quality of the Tri-Cities area and what it stands for,” said Konarska, while raking a Spring Lake High School courtyard. “We appreciate the opportunity to come over and help. (SLHS Principal) Mike Gilchrist brought out from snacks and water for us, which we appreciated.”

The superintendent said he if hadn’t been cleaning courtyards, he would more than likely be in a meeting.

“I enjoy gardening, but typically I don’t have time to do it,” Konarska said. “It’s been a beautiful morning to do this type of work.”

Grand Haven schools accounts payable coordinator Diane Stafford clipped boxwood bushes in the Spring Lake courtyard Thursday morning.

“It’s not something I usually do, even at home,” said Stafford, laughing. “It just feels good to get out there and make a contribution.”

Tribune reporter Marie Havenga contributed to this story.

 

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