About 40 elementary school children from Etowah’s feeder schools will get to go shopping with high school students as part of Etowah’s third annual “Shop with an Eagle” program.
In 2011, the inaugural year of the program, Etowah High School raised $11,245 and helped 31 children.
The program raised $15,290 in its second year and helped 46 children, and so far this year, the program has raised $17,140 and has about 40 children in need on the list to participate.
The Shop with an Eagle program has become a tradition of giving at Etowah, supported by a variety of fundraisers and food drives done by the students.
Brooke Serris, a junior at Etowah, is in her third year helping with the program and has been participating since the inaugural Shop with an Eagle event three years ago.
“I think it’s a great addition to Etowah,” Serris said. “It’s really a privilege to get to work with those kids and give them a happier holiday.”
Another student, Ally Franke, also a junior at Etowah, has participated since the program its inception.
“I think it’s an eye-opening experience,” Franke said. “I’m pretty privileged, and it makes me see what other people have, and some kids don’t have as much.”
Elementary school children were chosen by their school counselors to participate in the program, and will get to go shopping for things like clothes, blankets, toys and Christmas gifts for their family.
Serris said she has built friendships with the elementary school students she took shopping in years past, and even kept in touch with one through writing letters.
“Having that relationship, I think, was comforting for them,” Serris said. “The parents get to take home canned foods to feed the family, and that makes the kids happy, too.”
After they spend a day shopping with their student mentors from Etowah, the children will get to bring home bags of canned food for their families to help carry them through the holiday season.
Etowah High School Principal Keith Ball said Shop with an Eagle is a rewarding experience for children at feeder schools who are in need, and for the high school students who participate with the event.
Ball said the program started after he hired a teacher from another district who had experience with this type of charitable program.
“She asked if I would be interested and I said, ‘absolutely’,” Ball said.
Etowah’s program was Dr. Erin Jacob’s idea. Jacobs is an honors biology teacher at Etowah, and co-sponsors both the National Honor Society and the Shop with an Eagle program.
Jacobs worked at Kennesaw Mountain High School before teaching at Etowah, and said she brought the program from her previous school.
“It started over there,” Jacobs said. “When I came here in 2011, we decided to go ahead and try it. We ended up raising a ton of money in our first year.”
Ball said Kennesaw Mountain High School “parented” Etowah and donated some start-up money, and Etowah will pass it on and help the next school that wants to start a program.
Jacobs said, even though the fundraising events haven’t concluded yet, the program has raised enough money to take all the children in the program shopping, each getting about $150 to spend.
The elementary school children who participate in the program are called “Junior Eagles,” because eventually those student will attend Etowah.
“The Junior Eagles have been identified by their counselor as being in need of something for the holidays,” Jacobs said. “We match them with their mentors, they get to know each other, we have breakfast, Santa comes to visit the kids, and our mentors get to know what they need.”
The children and their mentors board a school bus and spend a few hours shopping for what they need. Any leftover money can be spent on toys for the holidays, Jacobs said, and the children get to bring home stockings stuffed with goodies.
The Etowah PTSA sets up what they call “Santa’s Workshop,” where the Junior Eagles can choose a present for their family members, which will be wrapped and sent home with the children for Christmas, Jacobs said.
“It’s just nice for the families to know that a complete stranger in the community cares about them,” Jacobs said. “It’s quite an experience.”
The program was started with help from the Student Ambassadors and National Honors Society students, and Serris is a member of both groups.
Through various fundraisers leading up to the December shopping trips, students have been collecting money and donations to support the program.
Collections have been taken up at extracurricular events like football games, special events like a trivia night were held to raise money, and T-shirt and bake sales have taken place to collect donations for the event. Students have also sponsored a Psychology Club canned food drive, where Serris is a member.
Serris said she has collected donations from Etowah’s homeroom classes, brought in cans of food for the drive, sold “Shop with an Eagle” T-shirts and plans to collect donations at sporting events to support the program.
Serris said it’s been “shocking” to see how some children and families in the community struggle with food and holiday expenses. But Serris said knowing she could do something to help through the program made her happy.
“It definitely made me realize how fortunate I am,” Serris said. “I guess I kind of grew up in this bubble, thinking that everyone was as blessed as me and got the same things I did at Christmas.”
Franke, also a member of the National Honor Society and BETA club, said that her experience mentoring the younger children makes her happy.
“It just makes you feel good to help people,” she added.