When most teenagers reach high school, they have stopped playing with stuffed animals, tucking their former furry friends into a box in the closet.
Six high schoolers at Garner Magnet High are on a mission this semester to use those toys for the greater good.
As part of a two-year International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme with 40-plus enrolled students, candidates have to participate in community service along with rigorous academics.
“The program emphasizes that the student should also be a concerned citizen,” said Cheryl Biconish, the program coordinator. “Through service to their community, students grow in the area of self-discovery and gain insight into the needs of others.”
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At the beginning of the school year, Biconish presented the students with a need from the State Highway Patrol.
Officers typically carry stuffed animals in patrol cars for traumatized children at the scene of an accident, but toward the end of the summer, the patrol was running low.
Trace Cooke, a junior in the IB program, jumped on the chance to coordinate donations.
Along with five other students, he advertised the need for donations at his school, his church and Vance Elementary, among other schools.
“I like kids,” he said. “It was the perfect opportunity to get involved with the community, and a noble cause.”
To date, the students have collected 375 stuffed animals, ranging from colorful Beanie Babies to huggable teddy bears.
“I wanted to make an impact on the community,” said junior Sarah Dancausse.
The drive has also brought the group of students closer together, as one of the first projects they have worked on in their two-year program.
During September and October, the team hung fliers, passed out brochures, recorded a school-wide announcement and collected the toys in their classrooms.
Sarah said that she didn’t expect such a turnout from the high schoolers.
“Usually teenagers are apathetic,” she said. “I was surprised.”
They aren’t the first group to help the patrol – 8-year-old Jack Nelson of Smithfield collected 150 stuffed animals with his friends in August.
Samantha Crews, a junior who helped with the project, thinks that the idea will spread. “It’s not just local, I think it will go statewide,” she said.
Lt. Jeff Gordon says troopers have been handing out stuffed animals for more than 10 years.
“When an officer or trooper comes to a collision scene with a child involved, there’s often a lot of commotion and it’s very traumatic,” he said. “The stuffed animal gives them a sense of comfort and builds good rapport with the child and trooper so they won’t be afraid.”
Once the toys are donated, they will be distributed to offices in 14 counties and from there, to the officers.
Trace plans to continue the stuffed animal drive next year.
“I want to build on it. Now I know what I can improve on next time,” he said.
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