For many school clubs, getting cut from the district’s budget means the end of the road.
For the Builders Club at North Syracuse Junior High School, it just meant organizers had to get creative.
“Most people, once your organization is cut, it’s cut,” said social studies teacher Chris Leahey, the club’s co-advisor. But we think it’s an important thing, particularly for those kids who don’t have a lot of connections at school. So we kept it going… It’s something that we value — the school values it, the administration values it. Even if the money’s not there, I think it’s a valuable thing and something worth keeping.”
The main purpose of Builders Club is to help students build connections on three levels — within the school between students, within the North Syracuse Central School District and in the Central New York Community as a whole.
“Builders Club is an effort to get all kinds of students involved in building all kinds of connections between the school and community, get out to the public and just kind of renew the civic mission of schools,” Leahey said. “It’s kind of unique because we have open membership. People just kind of come and go throughout the year. Some students stay all year, and some students come in the fall, but they play a spring sport, or the other way around. And we also try to do three levels. We’re a club that, if you want to come and help out, you can come. It’s kind of a non-hierarchical, non-cliquey, just kids that want to come together and do positive things. If you came to a meeting, you would see some kids that look like the kinds of students that don’t necessarily join clubs or get picked to be on a sports team.”
In order to accomplish the club’s mission, co-advisors Leahey and Kathy Carr, also a social studies teacher, do activities within the building as well as throughout Central New York, from helping out with the North Syracuse Christmas tree lighting to dropping off toys at the Salvation Army for Toys for Tots to cleaning up the community for Earth Day. That’s why the lack of funds has made things difficult.
“We like to do things outside of the building as much as we’re in the building,” Leahey said. “We used to have money for buses, but now we do fundraisers for busing. When we take a bus to the Oncenter for Toys for Tots, it’s $175. So we have to raise money for buses. We sell poinsettias. We’re always looking for ways to raise money.”
Because the program isn’t budgeted, Leahey and Carr have had to change the way they run the club.
“A lot of things we used to do, we’re really struggling with because we don’t have money,” Leahey said. “When we first started doing this, we would have monthly trips because everything was there, but slowly, it’s all eroded and taken away. But the important thing is, the kids still want to do it, so we’ll continue to do it.”
In fact, the program remains as popular as ever. The club has more than 100 members at any given time.
“Part of it, I think, is because of budget cuts,” Carr said. “We had a lot of clubs cut. The other part — my ninth-graders this year, I overheard them saying, ‘You’ve got to join this club. We do a lot fun things.’”
And, as Leahey noted, kids from all walks of life take part in the club, and they’re all accepted without question.
“We’ve never had a problem with somebody making someone in a different group or clique feel uncomfortable,” Carr said. “They always are very kind. When we did the advertisement for the food drive, it was drastically different groups working on it. They did a video, and it was really nice to see kids that normally wouldn’t work together on anything working together on it.”
That community spirit is exactly what defines Builders Club, and it doesn’t go unrecognized by the public. Both Leahey and Carr have received numerous letters and emails from community members complimenting them on the kids’ efforts. Now, those efforts are being lauded by an even larger body: the United Way has nominated Builders Club for its Spirit of Caring Volunteer Service Award. The awards celebrate philanthropy in the community.
The Builders Club will present a short video describing its mission, along with the other nominees, at 5:30 Thursday, April 26, at the Palace Theater in Eastwood.
The nomination is just the feather in the cap of a club that might have collapsed due to lack of funds, if not for the drive of its two co-advisors and the desire of the kids to keep it going.
“The kids really get a lot out of it,” Carr said. “They just like being with each other. They can do this and feel like they belong to something.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.