Creating smiles for miles: Northwood students spread joy with special club

By: Victoria Mitchell, | Royal Oak Review | Published June 14, 2017

ROYAL OAK — A group of Northwood Elementary School students spent their school year smiling while spreading gratitude through good deeds during the year.

More than 20 students in kindergarten through fifth grade participated in the school’s SMILE — Students Mindfully Illuminating Lives Everywhere — club, which culminated in a special meeting after school June 7.

During the gathering to wrap up the 2016-17 school year, students participated in an unveiling ceremony for a unique little library recently constructed and placed on the school’s grounds, and they passed out gratitude candy bags to residents living across from the school.

 Patty Earl accepts a bag of candy from Northwood SMILE Club members. The students did many good deeds and life-brightening activities throughout the school year.

Patty Earl accepts a bag of candy from Northwood SMILE Club members. The students did many good deeds and life-brightening activities throughout the school year.

Photo by Deb Jacques

The rustic, industrial oak little library was constructed and donated by one of the members’ uncles, Mike McKinstry, who owns Rusted Hammer Creations in Detroit.

“I love doing charitable work, and I have a huge connection with donating to kids, so I thought it is such an awesome cause and such a cool group, I was more than excited to do this,” McKinstry said. “I think they give enough, so it’s worth giving something back.”

The students placed their painted handprints on the new library, and all added a book to make it complete. The candy bags were then passed out to neighbors living on McDonald Avenue as thanks for being good neighbors.

The idea for the club began when teacher Karen Christian wanted to create an environment where students could not only make a difference, but also spread joy throughout the greater community.

“SMILE club started because all of us wanted to make other people’s lives just a little brighter,” she said.

The club became a reality with the help of teachers Kim Stanley, Jessica Land, Rachel Champagne and MaryAnn Campbell.

Christian said that beginning with the first meeting, the kids provided input on what they wanted to do.

Other activities throughout the year included making cookies and cards for Royal Oak police officers and firefighters, creating a poster campaign to encourage good choices at Northwood, leading fellow classmates in random acts of kindness with a schoolwide kindness quilt, and decorating bags for a soup kitchen to distribute to the homeless.

“Since our first meeting in January, it’s hard to believe we have accomplished so much,” Christian said. “Our goal was to illuminate lives everywhere, and we have done just that.”

The student club members also learned some valuable lessons along the way.

“I learned to always be kind to others, even if someone like your teacher isn’t watching you, and to have integrity,” said fourth-grader Veronika Nolte. “And to show empathy.”

Her fellow club member, third-grader Patrick Kitchen, agreed that there were plenty of valuable lessons learned throughout the year.

“I learned to be nice to everybody, even if they are mean to you,” he said.

Northwood Elementary School Principal Angela Ashburn said that every day, she watches the news and it isn’t always happy, so she loves to hear about what the students are doing.

“They call it the SMILE club, but I think of it as the sunshine club, because all of the pictures I see, they are really spreading sunshine and happiness to people,” she said.

Ashburn said she is thankful for her staff.

“They are really instilling in our students that there is a lot of happiness and ways to  make a difference in the world by just doing little things,” she said.

Fourth-grader Aubrey Deleon said she is glad she participated, because she enjoyed helping people.

“And I learned to always be kind and courteous of others, and to forgive and forget,” she said.

Christian said she hopes the club will continue next year.