A group of Lambert High School students recently won $10,000 as part of the Star 94 radio show Give Back Giveaway contest for their work teaching middle and elementary school students during the pandemic.
The group of girls are all part of the Youth Give Back club started by freshman Mandy Yang at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Yang said she started the group because she wanted to get students together to help others during the pandemic and spread positivity throughout the community.
As soon as she started at Lambert, she got approval from the school to start the club, spoke to her counselor, Travis Church, about sponsoring the club, gathered her friends together and then planned out their first project. The project was the Learning Pals Program, where the five girls in the club got together to teach five different courses virtually each week to younger students in the community.
Yang said that she wanted the courses to be outside of what the kids were already learning in classes that year, so they chose to teach subjects that could benefit students in other ways or even get them to just have fun and socialize for at least 30 minutes each week.
The 10-week-long courses included physical education and exercise, creative writing, reading for 3- to 5-year-olds, critical thinking and games. Yang said the classes were meant to be laid back and stress free.
“I would try and find common ground with [the kids],” Yang said. “I would talk about their interests and get them excited because what we’re doing is based on their passions. We would talk about things they like, we would make jokes — it was just really fun because we were actually talking to them and getting to know them.”
Yang said she was inspired to start the program because she has been volunteering as a teacher and tutor since businesses and agencies first started to shut down back in March.
An organizer from True Love for Special Need Families, a nonprofit based in Norcross that provides support for children with disabilities, reached out to Yang after schools closed in the spring to ask if she could teach an art class for some of the program’s kids. The kids loved the class so much that some parents had started asking her for private lessons so they could spend more time drawing, painting and having fun.
As school was about to start back up again and Yang started to hear concerns from parents with younger kids about virtual schooling and a lack of socialization, she wanted to bring some of that light fun and learning to other kids who might have needed it as well.
After planning out the schedules and classes, the girls started to spread the word in their neighborhoods and on social media. In just a short time, they had more than 180 registrations for the classes. Church, who sponsors the club and coaches girls lacrosse at the school, said that he was blown away by just how many in the community the students were able to help.
“I don’t think they expected that much participation,” Church said. “But it really, really affects our community in a good way, and I cannot be more proud of our students here. It just really goes to show how unbelievable our younger generation is if given the opportunity to put their heads together and work towards a common goal.”
Church said he was shocked when he got a call one day from Jenn Hobby, the host for Star 94, telling him that the girls were finalists for the Give Back Giveaway contest. He had no idea that they had entered the contest.
Yang said that she did not know about the Give Back Giveaway until her birthday when one of her friends who had also joined the club surprised her with an essay to submit for a chance to win the prize.
“I read it and we just all decided to submit it the day before the deadline,” Yang said. “I was so surprised when we actually got into the final round.”
As finalists, the girls were all invited onto a Zoom call with Hobby, some of the others at Star 94 and representatives from Delta Credit Union, which sponsored the contest. They gave a presentation on the work they were able to accomplish with students through the Learning Pals Program on air, and by the end of the call, Delta Community Credit Union pulled out a giant check for $10,000 and congratulated them on their win.
“I was really shocked,” Yang said. “It didn’t hit me until a day or two after. I didn’t know when we got on the Zoom call after we did our presentation that they would just announce the winner. I thought they were going to wait a few days to evaluate our presentation, so I was really shocked and obviously very excited.”
Church said he immediately told everyone he knew at the school to spread the word and take a moment to brag about how amazing the students are.
“We were all just really excited for them,” Church said. “Any time that we can shower our students with recognition is a good day in my opinion.”
Yang and Church said they are not sure yet how the school and the club want to use the prize money. Yang said she wants to continue to build up the club so that students can continue on with it even after she graduates, so they may save it for a future project.
For now, she and the other club members are continuing with small projects like their most recent letter-writing campaign for health care workers in the community.
They want to continue with projects like these as the pandemic continues and possibly worsens during the winter months, providing a little bit of positivity in the midst of a crisis.