Shawnee Mission East SHARE program celebrates 30 years of community service

Each fall, SM East seniors use a day off from school to work on a community service project as part of SHARE's Senior Service Day.
Each fall, SM East seniors use a day off from school to work on a community service project as part of SHARE’s Senior Service Day.

Bev Timmons was in her first year as school nurse at SM East when a concerned student asked how she could help the sick babies of crack cocaine addicts.

“I’d been involved previously with an inner city program and I hooked my students up with that program,” Timmons recalled. “I was at the right place at the right time.”

It was the beginning of a program that over the last three decades has become a touchstone experience for thousands of SM East students. SHARE also has become a national model for student-run service programs.

This new school year alone, 680 students have signed up to participate, almost 40 percent of the SM East student body. They’ve identified 45 different service projects.

“The kids drive the whole program and bring projects every year,” said Krissie Wiggins, the current SHARE coordinator. “They choose their project, recruit the team and take ownership, that’s what makes it work.

“It’s still wildly popular with the student body.”

Krissi Wiggins, SME SHARE coordinator, discusses the night's work helping homeless people with students.
Krissie Wiggins, SM East SHARE coordinator, discusses the night’s work helping homeless people with students.

Next Wednesday, SHARE supporters will hold their annual fundraiser, Renovation Sensation 2016. They hope to raise $50,000 to pay for Wiggins’ salary and other program costs.

Except for office space and some office supplies, SHARE is privately funded. “It’s critical,” Wiggins said, “it’s the sole fundraiser for the SHARE program.”

Timmons said SHARE had its roots in a service activity called the East Senior Program begun by the PTA the year before she arrived. Its popularity however, proved to be too much for parent volunteers.

The school nurse had previously helped junior high students do outreach programs at nursing homes. She offered to help SM East continue what the PTA had started.

“I saw an opportunity to make them aware of the bigger world,” she said.

One of the more popular early SHARE projects was Habitat for Humanity. Timmons was impressed when a group of SM East boys decided they wanted to build their own Habitat houses. They eventually built three and teamed with other high schools to do 10 altogether.

Other projects included mentoring incoming 9th graders, tutoring poor kids in other schools; knitting scarves for Native Americans in North Dakota, and visiting elderly people in nursing homes.

One of the most ambitious SHARE projects was in response to the 9/11 tragedy 15 years ago. Students wanted to do something to help and although it took five months, they finally got their chance.

“We flew out to New York and worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in a chapel near the the disaster,” Timmons said. “We fed firemen and police, and went out and brought hot chocolate, coffee and soup to them.”

Then, after being in New York for a short time, the group of 20 students and adults turned around and flew home.

When Timmons decided to retire in 2003, the Shawnee Mission School District agreed to continue SHARE if the private funding could be raised to pay the program coordinator.

This week, Wiggins accompanied a half-dozen East students for their SHARE project at the Uplift Organization facility at 1916 Prospect Ave. in Kansas City. Uplift collects food and clothing, and distributes it to the homeless.

The students helped sort the donations and load the four vans used by Uplift to go out to homeless encampments for distribution three times a week. On average, 250 people are helped.

“It helps us,” said Bart Farmer, an Uplift board member. “When we go out to serve food, they supply labor. More importantly, it exposes them to people in a different position in life. They get to know people with love and respect.”

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