May 26 • 03:24 PM

Big send off for Almont staff

'Rachel's Challenge' club members organize luncheon for last day of school

Middle and high school members of Friends of Rachel and Chain Links clubs bid farewell to the entire school district staff with sign of gratitude and luncheon on June 16. photo by Catherine Minolli.

June 23, 2010
ALMONT — A chain reaction of gratitude and kindness ran through the school district—and entire community—as students bid farewell for the school year.

Teachers, bus drivers, custodians, administrators, parapros and cafeteria employees were treated to a picnic-style buffet after the final bell on June 16. Members of the Chain Links and Friends of Rachel clubs coordinated the event, which served about 200 people in the district's cleared out bus garage.

The clubs were organized after the district hosted 'Rachel's Challenge,' a motivational program based on the short life of Rachel Scott, the first student killed in the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in April of 1999.

Rachel's Challenge reminds students that they can "start a chain reaction" of kindness by making positive changes in the way they treat others.

In April, Colleen Ulmer, special education teacher and student council advisor, brought the program to the school in an effort to unify the students—and it seems to have worked.

"It really is becoming a chain reaction," says Blake Bollaert, a high school junior who helped organize the event.

"We thought this would be a great way to impress on the teachers and all the staff and the community that we're grateful for the way they support our events and sports," he says.

The luncheon—complete with a pig roast—took about a month to plan, says junior Paige Pierog. Members of Friends of Rachel and Chain Links clubs solicited donations from the community, she adds, which were more than generous.

"It's amazing what everyone gave to help with this," Paige says.

Also amazing, adds high school secretary Shelly Fasse, is how hard the students worked to pull off the luncheon.

"It's just awesome," Fasse says. "I can't believe the kids pulled it off. It was very inspiring driving by in the early morning to see them working on this."

Ulmer says she's proud of the students, who impressed the staff with the generous spread.

"This meant more to (the staff) than anything," she says. "I've had parapros, teachers, administrators, custodians swing by the room and say 'that was so great.'"

Schools Supt. Steve Zott also thought the luncheon was great—adding that the students' show of gratitude means so much to him and the entire staff.

"Every year I thank all the staff—from the bus drivers to the latch key parapros and I tell them that the students may not seem to appreciate them but they have to know that they do," Zott says.

"This proves more than anything I can say. This is the students saying 'thank you' and it's so nice that they do."

Though students won't be back in class until the fall, Ulmer says Friends of Rachel and Chain Links members plan to meet during the summer.

"They had all talked about some things they want to do over the summer and we'll try to find a way to do that," Ulmer says.

She believes the momentum will continue because the clubs are informal—students can get involved when they are motivated or have time.

"We are just keeping it open and fluid, there's not a formal membership," Ulmer says. "One thing we always say is if you're coming, bring a friend."

Friends of Rachel and Chain Links members say they're extremely grateful to the community for helping them show their gratitude for the school district staff.

Donors include: Almont VFW, Almont Video, American Tree, Big Joe's Pizza & Chicken, Blake's Orchards, Buccilli's Cakes & Pizza, Charlie Brown's, Almont Country Corner,

Countryside Market, Dairy Queen of Romeo, E. G. Nick's Restaurant, Golden Buda Restaurant, Imlay City Big Boy, Imlay City Cinemas, Jimmy John's of Lapeer, K-9 Clips, Lucky's Steakhouse, Maria's Restaurant, Nacho's Taco House, NCG Cinemas of Lapeer, ReLiteration Used Books, Romeo Theater, Rosa's Pizza, The Brew House, The Kommunity Kracker Barrel, The Learning Depot, Tietz Restaurant, Tim Horton's, Imlay City, Younger's Irish Tavern, Mr. Bostain, Mr. Ferman, Mr. Maier, Mrs. Burnett, Mrs. Cain, Mrs. D'Onofrio, Mrs. Fasse, Mrs. Leanard, Mrs. Pierog, Mrs. Rohrbeck, Mrs. Savage, Mrs. Ulmer, Ms. Bollaert, Nancy Pakledinaz.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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