A Little Bit of Home

When I saw that we needed to have a guest blog, I knew exactly who I wanted to ask.  Mrs. Orris came to my high school when I was a sophomore.  Even though I never played the sports that she coached and never had her as a teacher, I always heard of all the amazing things she was working on.  Club hOpe was created when I was in high school and I have loved watching it grow into the most amazing organization for our community in Eastern Iowa.  These are Mrs. Orris’ own words about club hOpe and all the amazing things they do.


In in the spring of 2008, I was pregnant and emotional. I had just got home after a long day of teaching so I sat down with a big bowl of ice cream, put my feet up, and flipped the TV on to every women’s favorite show; Oprah. What I didn’t realize is how that one hour show would change my life, my students lives and my community for the better.

The entire Oprah program that day was devoted to some unheard of non-profit out of Canada called “Free The Children”. The leader of the non-profit, Craig Keilburger, was trying to convince us, the viewers at home that kids could change the world if given the opportunity under the right leader. I don’t know if it was that I was out of ice cream or a sudden realization that I actually wanted to believe what he was saying, but I started crying and thought to myself…Mindy you could be that leader. The tiny voice inside my head, that I normally would have chosen to ignore and gone and gotten myself more ice cream, was not whispering to me that day but shouting at me! I felt like my heart has been awake and I realized that I could not pretend like I didn’t see this program. I grabbed the remote and DVRed the program and then recorded it to a VHS tape to take into school the next day. I knew that if I really thought this was something I was suppose to become apart of…this movement of “changemakers”…then I was going to have to sell it to my 9th grade Global Culture students. I figured if I could sell joining Free The Children as an “O Ambassador Club” then I could sell it to my administration and the other students in our school.
The next day, I entered the school building with the VCR in my one hand and a donut in the other (don’t forget I was pregnant) had my game face on. I had created a lesson that night about social problems that teens were facing in different parts of the world in 2008 and then gave the solution of this “O Ambassador” program where I would show my student clips of the program from the day before. I knew at the end of the class, my one question to my students would be “Do you think kids would join a club like this at our school if I started it?” My students were surprised and interested by my lesson and class after class kids raised their hand to signal that they would be willing to join a club like this at our school if I started it. Many of them wanted to know when they would get to go to Africa because that was one of the opportunities through Free The Children; trips to developing countries to build schools and work on clean water projects. I chuckled at them and thought to myself, Africa – yeah right. But I said to them you will get that opportunity if we can become a successful club I’m sure! So left school that day feeling confident and ready to face the administration.
The next day I walked into the Activities Director’s office ready for a hard sell, but he was actually very interested in the program and told me to go for it. So I got online and went to the website that was given on the Oprah show and applied for our school to become a host site for an O Ambassador club. It took until August of that year to get the email saying our school had been accepted and our materials for starting the group were in the mail! I was overwhelmed – very excited about this new opportunity, but totally nervous because now I had two kids to be a mom too and about 45lbs of “baby weight” to lose (curse you donuts and ice cream!!)
I started the school in the fall of 2008 off and running. I really don’t think I have stopped running since that year either. I got approximately 45 kids to join the club and i decided if we were going to do this, we had to have some easy platform to incorporate in the students minds. We would start local, work our way to helping our county, our state, or nation and eventually our world by traveling to Africa. I thought this was the perfect plan and so easy to get! When I told my students, their minds immediately went to “What do we need to pack for Africa?” Getting the students to bye in was actually easy, but getting the adults to buy in was much harder. The first comment when I approached the administration was “We can’t pay you to do this club.” I thought to myself, I never asked to be paid. Actually, I never want to be paid for leading club hOpe. The minute you start getting paid for something, it becomes a job and you eventually stop doing it because you love it and start doing it for the paycheck. I knew, because I had seen lots of teachers turn into contract/paycheck teachers, that was something that I never wanted for myself. I also knew I had to lead my example for my students. If I was getting paid to do community service work, then they too would always look for some kind of reward for doing the same work. This club, for it work, had to be able selfless giving. Giving to others because it’s the right thing to do, not because you were getting anything out of it. Over the eight years this club has been apart of our school, I have never received a “paycheck” for it, but I have been rewarded in ways that are far greater than any dollar amount.

In eight years, our club has done countless hours of community service. We have fundraised around $200,000 for kids to travel to Kenya, Africa in 2010,2013, Ecuador in 2015, and this summer will be traveling to the Dominican Republic to continue the work of Free The Children by schooling building projects, working on clean water projects and learn the adopt a village model that focuses on giving a hand up, not a hand out. We have traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to build a community garden through the non-profit Victory Gardens for inner city families to have access to be able to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. We went to Chicago, Illinois to volunteer with the non-profit Inner City Impact to help demo a building for a new community center for low income families and kids to use to stay off the streets at night and during the summer. We traveled to Washington, Illinois twice to volunteer with tornado clean up relief effort through non-profit Bethany Church and Services. We also organized and hosted an event called Southmoore Strong were we teamed up with our football team and raised money during one game for the Southmoore High School Football Program because they had multiple players who were featured in a Sports Illustrated article for losing their homes and loved ones from an F5 tornado. We ended up raising over $4,000 to send down to Moore, Oklahoma which they created a scholarship fund with for football players who had been effected by the tornado.

At the state and local level, in the eight years club hOpe has been in operation, we have done too many events to write about. Our efforts stretch from creating a haunted house for our local YMCA’s Spooktacular event at Halloween, volunteering at the ARC Halloween party for Jackson County disabled and handicapped persons, to painting the fire hydrants in our city and helping clean up and then rebuild a local park, organizing a river clean up effort using flat bottom boats and canoes on the Maquoketa River, to serving dinner at the Dairy Board Dinner for Jackson County and painting thousand of faces for local benefits for people or at the local farmers market and county fair. Our kids have spent hundreds of hours organizing and hosting an event called Dance Marathon which we raise funds for the Iowa City Children’s Hospital. We started volunteering at the University of Iowa’s Dance Marathon after one of our beloved sophomore students passed away from cancer. In 5 years, our club has helped raise over $65,000 for the Iowa City Children’s Hospital through our one night event. We also have taken on trying to stop the stigma of mental health and teamed up with a teen focused non-profit called To Write Love On Her Arms. We have hosted two 5k runs/walks to honor those who have mental health issues and those who have passed away or survived suicide which has raised almost $10,000 for TWLOHA. These are only a small fraction of all we have accomplished.

My students leave my club with a purpose and a greater sense of themselves and what’s important in life. They build leadership, communication, organization and responsibility skills that will stay with them the rest of their lives. They understand what hard work is and that the pay off for it is worth it. They obtain scholarship and are recognized for their efforts which is the bonus for giving of themselves selflessly.

For me, as a teacher who has been in the business for 14 years, I haven’t become jaded. I haven’t ever said I hate my job. I truly believe I have the greatest students on the planet and would go to bat for them every time they needed anything. In my personal life, in the eight years this club has been going, I have been through some horrible struggles…the kind of things that may change someone’s out look on life…but I can say with a full heart that this club has saved me. It’s saved my sanity, my kind heart, my overwhelmingly positive outlook on life and the ability to always see the glass half full. Without club hOpe, I would not have the connections I have with students and their parents. I would not get to beam with pride when my student calls to tell me they were awarded a significant scholarship. I would not get to tear up as my students tell me that I am their role model and how they look up to how hard I work and how much I care.
club hOpe has changed us all here in Maquoketa…we are better, kinder, and more united because of it.