By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO, MN - Middle school girls showed how they can make a difference in the DC community by giving valentines they made to nursing home residents.
Girls Make a Difference is a community service, arts and science program geared toward seventh and eighth grade girls at the Dassel-Cokato Middle School.
This year, there are 32 girls participating in the program.
“We have a really diverse, neat group of girls,” said Sue Sparboe, who helped organize the program five years ago.
The program was spearheaded in 2004, by Sparboe, eighth grade science teacher; Christine Arenson, former middle school art instructor; and Jennifer Page, former family and consumer science instructor.
Since then, Melissa Rudebusch, seventh and eighth grade science teacher, has partnered with Sparboe to continue making the program fun and educational for middle school girls.
The main goals of the program are to give the girls positive interaction with adults outside of school, exposure to the Twin Cities culture through a field trip, and exposure to art, science, and community service, Sparboe explained.
This year, the group is focusing on a community service project to help brighten the lives of Cokato Manor residents for Valentine’s Day.
After school last Wednesday, girls from the program met in Rudebusch’s classroom to make bouquets of chocolate flowers for the residents to enjoy.
Groups of three or four worked together making roses out of wooden skewers, Hershey’s Kisses, red Saran Wrap, and green florist tape.
When the roses were finished, the girls made individual name tags to ensure each resident received their own valentine.
The roses were then arranged in vases to be used as centerpieces and placed on the dining room tables at the Manor.
“We haven’t done anything at the nursing homes yet, and with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we thought this would be a nice thing to have on their tables,” Sparboe said.
Girls Make a Difference doesn’t meet on a regular basis rather there are a series of activities leading up to a final event.
In the fall, the girls raise money by selling Minnesota Weather Guide calendars through the Fresh Water Society.
Usually, the calendars are sold in October so they arrive in time for Christmas, Sparboe said.
Later on in the year, the girls work on a community service project such as the valentines.
The program culminates with a weekend trip to the Twin Cities, where the girls get to experience the arts and science offered there.
This year, the girls are going on an Underwater Adventures tour at the Mall of America and viewing a play at the Children’s Theatre Feb. 21 and 22.
Here, the girls will receive a behind-the-scenes tour of the giant aquarium and learn about food preparation and feeding, and other aspects of marine life, Sparboe explained.
Included in the package is lunch at Bubba Gump’s, three hours at Nickelodeon Universe, and mini-golf at Moose Mountain.
On Sunday, the girls will experience the arts with the play, “Romeo and Juliet,” shown at the Children’s Theater.
In addition, by going somewhere nice to eat, the program leaders encourage proper etiquette, Sparboe added.
In the past, Girls Make a Difference participants worked at Goodwill Outlet in Minneapolis as part of their community service.
This was an eye-opening experience for the girls as they helped unload boxes upon boxes of donations, Sparboe explained.
Other community service projects have included yard cleanup for a Twin Cities group home for disabled adults, and sending care packages to the troops in Iraq.
Past science and art experiences have included visiting the James J. Hill mansion, which was once owned by the builder of the Great Northern Railway and is a registered Minnesota historical site.
A past visit also included the Mill City Museum, where the girls experimented by making chocolate chip cookies using different kinds of flower.
“The kids really liked that,” Sparboe said.
Eighth grader Linsey Strolberg is in her second year of Girls Make a Difference. Last year, she went along to the Maple Lake Airport, where the girls learned about flying.
The girls also had an opportunity to take a free plane ride, which Strolberg really enjoyed, she said.
This year, she is looking forward to sleeping with the sharks, though she is scared to wake up in the middle of the night with a shark over her head, Strolberg said.
Twins Maria and Mackenzie Morris both think the program this year is fun, and the project was a nice thing to do for the local nursing home residents.
They are also looking forward to the Underwater Adventures.