Volunteering in the community is important. It’s a lesson reinforced at all ages in school. But rarely do students take it upon themselves to brainstorm, plan to help and democratically select the beneficiary of their good deeds.
That’s exactly what a group of 15 to 20 high school students did this back-to-school season.
From July 29 to Aug. 2, residents in Dyer, Schererville and St. John may have noticed an unusual sight in their neatly manicured neighborhoods — flamingos. Lots of them.
The pink, plastic flocks were strategically placed — 25 per yard, 10 yards a night — as a part of the Northwest Indiana nonprofit Region Kids for Comfort’s summer fundraiser.
Led by 15-year-old Adam Akan, the collection of “kids” — friends from Akan’s neighborhood and former schools — met every night for a week to flock a designated yard.
Placed with a sign reading “Congratulations, you’ve been FLOCKED,” residents could choose to simply let the flamingos sit and be picked up the next day or pay a minimum $25 donation to pass the flock forward to another neighbor or friend’s yard.
Most of the flock-ees responded in kind, paying the flock forward. Just a couple days in, the Akans said neighbors taking notice reached out to the family asking to be flocked next. Some rearranged their flamingos before the volunteers could come back by to collect the flock, creating patterns of pink, plastic lawn art.
The team easily surpassed its $1,000 fundraising goal, Akan said, doubling that total by day four.
“We definitely want to expand,” Akan said. “This is something we could do every summer. From what we’ve seen, the community will respond again.”
The high schoolers, ranging in ages and all attending high schools in the Region and Chicagoland area, voted among themselves where to donate their proceeds.
The kids’ choice was Chasing Dreams, a Merrillville-based nonprofit that offers free education, skills and independence programs to children and adults with special needs — a commendable operation on its own.
The flocking fundraiser was just the latest by the Region Kids for Comfort collective, founded more than two years ago by Akan to bring comfort to Hammond’s Haven House shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
“It’s a personal connection to me, knowing that we’re helping people,” Akan said.
Akan’s efforts at such an early age set an example for how we can all, no matter the age, find ways to give back.
A privately funded and volunteer-driven organization, Chasing Dreams relies on community support.
It has served more than 900 families since the beginning of the year, according to its founder, Denise Babjak, and families travel from as far away as South Bend, Chicago and Indianapolis to seek the center’s free services.
Babjak, still in awe, said she met with the Akan family Thursday to receive a $2,100 check from Region Kids for Comfort. Proceeds will support Chasing Dreams’ various programs such as its art, music and sign language classes.
“The need is huge,” Babjak said of serving those with disabilities. “It was incredible meeting the kids that are really going to make a difference — not only in our community but further than our community. They are incredible kids with the determination and drive you don’t hear of anymore.”
Akan said he hopes this summer’s fundraiser is just the start of something bigger that can pull more kids from the Region and just across the border in Illinois to lend a hand.
We can certainly hope so. This is an effort we could all work to emulate.
For more information on Region Kids for Comfort, see the team's Facebook page. For more on Chasing Dreams, see the nonprofit's website at chasingdreams.org or contact founder Denise Babjak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carley Lanich is The Times education reporter. She graduated from Indiana University where she previously served as the editor of the student newspaper. The opinions are the writer's.