From left to right, Emily Block, Jamira Wilson and Jennifer… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
"Faith makes all things possible. Bravery makes all things easier. And love creates happiness," read the message on the inside of a handmade Valentine's Day card.
And it was signed, "With a universe full of love, Sophie."
It was one of dozens of valentines made for members of the military in hospitals or overseas by teenagers from Baltimore schools, just one of the service projects students undertook on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"I know what it is like to have someone in the military," said Michael Roundtree, a senior at New Era Academy and one of the student leaders of the service day. His brother is a Marine in Afghanistan. "If you talk about it, you find out lots of kids do, too."
Hundreds of teens gave up their day off to pack toiletries for the homeless, put together art kits for hospitalized children, or exercise kits for grade-schoolers they were mentoring under first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" project.
Student leaders chose the service activities and planned the day at four city schools: the Success Academy on North Avenue, Antioch Diploma Plus High School, the Achievement Academy at Harbor City on Harford Road and Southside Academy.
"It was constant e-mails and spreading the word at school," said Northwestern High School senior Cameron Green, president of the Associated Student Congress of Baltimore. He was working at the Success Academy site. "We pressured everybody," he added with a smile.
Students were given bus passes to the sites. There was lunch on hand and Zumba and boot-camp exercise classes for blowing off steam. At the end of the day, service-learning hours, required for graduation, were awarded to the sixth- through 12th-graders.
"It's about giving back to people who don't have as much as you do," said Brittany Chaney, a 10th-grader who helped oversee the packing of hundreds of toiletry kits that will be given away at homeless shelters and to city public schoolchildren in foster care.
"This was run by the student leaders," said Tamara Barron, who coordinates service learning for city schools. "They see things from the students' perspective. That's why we had such a good turnout today."
Indeed, there were 2,400 art kits packed for children at Johns Hopkins Hospital's pediatric wards and area shelters. About 30 students were working at the greenhouses of the city schools' Great Kids Farm, harvesting and planting. And hundreds of "fit kid" packs were assembled, with elements chosen by the students: a pedometer, a jump rope, a walking-distance log and water bottles with messages of encouragement printed on the side.
"They are the ones who asked for the exercise breaks for themselves," said Barron, adding that the students wanted to live what they were preaching. So, Pamela Moore, a coordinator for the program, called in favors and found fitness instructors to donate their time.
"The part I love best is that these kids are from all over the city and most never met each other before today," Moore said. "And they are all here to give back, and to have a good time doing it."
The students researched the service projects themselves and decided what to include in the bags they packed. Barron supplied them with the items they asked for, thanks to a couple of federal grants.
"This all starts with them," she said.