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7th-graders show they care by helping others
Gainesville Middle School students walk past two signs asking students to donate canned goods for the “Show U Care” project Wednesday. The project is the result of the Hall County Asset Initiative in which The United Way of Hall County has collaborated with agencies and community partners to promote positive youth development. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Local middle schoolers are putting down the video games and practicing good deeds to show family, teachers and community residents they care.

Gainesville and Hall County seventh-graders are wrapping up the third week of the "Show U Care" project that aims to get middle schoolers involved in the community to keep them on course to graduate from high school. Students Working Against Tobacco teams at each school planned and implemented the project.

The project sponsored by the Hall County Asset Initiative asked students to spend a week showing their family they care by helping mom with the dishes, taking out the trash for dad or being nice to a sibling. The second week students were asked to pitch in at school by being respectful to teachers, keeping the school grounds clean and tutoring students who need help.

And this week, the anti-tobacco teams are recruiting their peers to bring canned foods to school to restock local food banks depleted after the holidays.

Carol Williams is senior vice president of community impact for the United Way of Hall County, which was one of the local sponsors of the 6-year-old "Show U Care" project. The project focused on seventh-graders for the first time this year instead of sixth-graders.

Williams said statistics show there is a correlation between high school graduation rates and students who engage in school activities and community affairs at a
young age.

"If we can give them a foundation here (in middle school) for their future, the more likely they are going to be to stay in school in high school," Williams said. "... If they’re in a leadership group here and build these skill sets, they’ll realize the importance of staying in school and staying away from risky behavior."

Rakia Johnson, a counselor at Gainesville Middle School, said Gainesville Middle’s Students Working Against Tobacco team has seven members who work on leadership skills, community service and planning drug resistance programs for the school.

She said the "Show U Care" project encourages students to take the initiative to play an active role in their community. Gainesville and Hall County students decided to hold a canned food drive to contribute to the community as required by the third week of the project.

"This group of youth have done it all. They have spoken to every classroom in the past three weeks," Johnson said.

Williams said West Hall, South Hall, C.W. Davis and Gainesville middle school students already have collected more than 400 cans of food this week, and three other middle schools in Hall County have yet to have their cans counted.

"I was surprised that some people who don’t have a lot of money brought more cans than people who do have a lot of money," said L.J. Head, a Gainesville Middle School seventh-grader who led the project. "I hope it will have a ripple effect."