L to R: Joselyn Huerta (student), Elizabeth Preston (student), Nathan Van Ryn (advisor) and Angie Anderson (student). Photo courtesy of Lisa Magers.
An idea, like a snowflake, fell between SkillsUSA law enforcement instructor Nathan Van Ryn and students Angie Anderson, Joselyn Huerta and Elizabeth Preston as they drove to their district leadership event last fall. During the drive, the group from Cleburne (Texas) High School reflected on how grateful they were to be attending the event as part of their holiday celebrations. They shared stories of their own traditions and memories until the idea came upon them, wrapped in the spirit of the holidays: “Give what you can of yourself to benefit those around you.”
Inspired, the students and instructor committed themselves to helping their local community during the holidays. The only question was, “How?”
Rolling through the town in their school bus, the students began to expand on their initial idea of giving teddy bears to local elementary school kids. What started as a snowflake-sized idea had become a snowball: The students would host a winter carnival for the entire community to benefit the local Children’s Advocacy Center and Salvation Army Angel Tree program.
“We decided to have the carnival benefit Children’s Advocacy Center because it does so much to help kids,” Andersen says. “What we raised helped us fill the wishes of kids of all ages through the Salvation Army Angel Tree.”
“We wanted to open it up where the community could come and have fun, too,” adds Preston. “Everyone. Homeschool kids that don’t really get to go to the fall festivals at school or kids that don’t exactly have money to go spend on different kinds of things to do in town that are so expensive.”
Ideas don’t mean much without action. To keep their snowball of an idea from melting, the chapter had to develop a plan. The first step was reserving an indoor location that could host a community event during the winter. Thankfully, their school had just the space: an indoor turf practice field.
The next step was to entice members of the community to join in, and Van Ryn sent his students out to speak directly with local businesses and associations to convince them to participate. “It was a little awkward,” Anderson admits, “but I think the more I did it, the more confident I got, and I was able to answer people’s questions and then eventually get the donations that we needed.”
“It got them actually going face-to-face with actual business owners,” adds Van Ryn, “which helps build those workplace skills and gets them to really show adults that, ‘Hey, we’re here to make a difference.’”
On Dec. 17, what started as a holiday wish became, through planning and perseverance, a reality, as Cleburne High’s SkillsUSA chapter — with tremendous support from the community and fellow CHS student organizations — hosted its first annual Cleburne Winter Carnival, featuring carnival-style games, a variety of activities, crafts, inflatables, food and fun. The holidays may be over, but the self-motivation and display of responsibility by these SkillsUSA students continue to provide inspiring examples of the SkillsUSA Framework in action and how good will and teamwork can unite a community.
“Every year, I’ve just wanted to elevate our chapter,” says Van Ryn. “We’ve had a chapter here for several years, but for me, it was the first year to go to state and do all that. And after that, we kind of got hooked! So, we’re trying to make us one of the best chapters in Texas. That’s our goal.”