Out of the rubble

Published 10:35 pm Monday, August 10, 2009

When the tornado struck the city of Suffolk nearly a year and a half ago, the village of Driver was nearly ripped apart by the powerful winds and rain.

But that power met its match in the resounding spirit of philanthropy and goodwill shown as hundreds of people visit the village to help clean up, clear out and rebuild.

And while those volunteers worked, people were watching. More specifically, the children of Driver were watching.

“Everyone was coming here to help out and pick up,” said Kendall Parsons, president of the Driver Junior Express. “I just thought that we could do that, too.”

A small group of children in the village began brainstorming about how they could make a difference. Soon, an idea came: What if they created their own service organization that would benefit different needs in the community?

And so it began. This group started the Driver Junior Express in May, and children throughout Driver were recruited to come aboard. In the past three months alone, the Express has raised more than $400 for the Suffolk Humane Society, raised an additional $375 to buy supplies for the Suffolk Genieve Shelter and held a food drive for the shelter, as well.

“Sometimes, the kids make the biggest difference,” said Stella Immler, one of the adult leaders for the club. Immler added that the parents’ role is surprisingly limited, explaining that they are just there to help guide the children’s vision.

“We monitor the meetings, throw out resources for them,” she said. “But we really let them run with their own ideas.”

The club has 15 members, ranging in age from 5 to 15. Age does not matter, the members say, because there is plenty of work to be done. For example, at last Saturday’s Key West Fest, members set up a tent and sold frozen drinks to benefit the Genieve Shelter. The younger children were in charge of keeping the straws, napkins and cups in order, while the older children poured drinks and monitored the donations.

“We have letters to send out or things to set up,” said Mackenzie Hallis, vice-president of the organization. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Members say they recognize that all the hard work is good for them and for their community.

“We don’t want our neighborhood to have gangs or bad things happen in it,” Hallis said. “We want to try and show kids how cool it is to get out and do good work.”

“We love Driver,” Parsons added. “We want it to stay a nice little community.”

The club will next be seen at the Mutt Strut, where they will help the Suffolk Humane Society, and the members have said they are also looking forward to starting some different service projects — such as beautification projects around Driver — beginning in the fall.

“They’ve got a lot of parental support with this,” Immler said. “They are willing to help with anything, and we want to help them make that happen.”

To keep track of the Driver Junior Express, visit the Driver Village’s Web site at www.driverevents.com.