Polk’s Interact Club volunteers dedicated to community, promoting international understanding

Published 4:18 pm Thursday, June 25, 2015


Tanya Ledford, Interact sponsor, and Jennifer Griffin, Interact club member, are pictured at the November Crop Walk.

By Linda List
Life in Our Foothills, February 2015

It’s been seven years since Aaron Greene, then Polk County High School principal, and now assistant superintendent, encouraged Tanya Ledford to become the advisor for a high school group called Interact, an international organization sponsored by Rotary International.

Ledford is a high school English teacher and describes her Interact students as “amazing kids who choose to spend their limited free time helping others.”

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Over the year the members are involved in activities as varied as serving and cleaning up at Tryon’s Shrimp Festival, setting up tents and offering free face painting at the Wolverine Festival, helping Student Council sell Christmas wreaths, and donating a parachute for the Polk County Library Halloween festival.

Some of the activities raise money for other projects and activities. They co-sponsor the Winter Formal dance with the Key Club. This year the theme ‘Midnight In Paris’ earned almost $1,500. They sold popcorn at the Wolverine Festival and Rotary sponsored them in the Foothills November Crop Walk where they walked and raised money to help end world hunger.

The money raised is used to fund other projects, as well. For example, in November, they participated in Operation Christmas Child. Students filled and brought in shoeboxes with toys and other gifts. Interact money paid for the $7 shipping for each box.

Some of the projects, such as the Purple Pinkie Project, are international in scope.  For this polio eradication fundraiser, Interact members ask for donations and for every dollar donated the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation matches it with two dollars.

Adding to the fun and creating excitement and recognition for students who donated, the members painted each donor’s pinkie fingernail purple, resulting in donations of $200 in one day.

As Ledford proudly explained, “It’s easier to be moved and donate to something that affects people we know, but these kids, often dealing with their own tight budgets, donated even though none of them knew a single person with polio.”

Ledford fondly recalls the time last year when the club sponsored the Tryon Half-Marathon. They had agreed to sponsor a water table at mile ten for runners and would pass out water and Gatorade. That Saturday morning was extremely cold and she wondered if the kids would choose to sleep in a nice warm bed, or to show up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. But there they were, she said, handing out water, laughing and cheering the racers on.

“It stands out because these students are dedicated. It’s humbling,” she describes with a smile.

The club meets every Tuesday. Students have requirements to meet and they must attend at least half the meetings. Seniors have a 50-hour requirement, juniors need 40, sophomores need 30 and freshman must have 20 hours.

Members meeting these goals are recognized at the awards ceremony. Seniors receive a stole to wear at graduation. They also receive a lapel pin and certificate. Freshman, sophomores, and juniors receive a lapel pin and certificate.

“My Interact members have full, difficult school schedules. They often have regular jobs, and are members of other clubs,” Ledford said.

These activities don’t go unnoticed when a student is applying for college. Colleges look for well-rounded students who not only achieve scholastically but have been involved in the community. Often exposure to different walks of life through volunteering helps steer a student to a career path. Plus, volunteering as a teenager can also lead to volunteerism as an adult. It pulls them out of their own, sometimes self-centered world, and shows them a world bigger than themselves.

Typical of this is a program called SSHOUT (Sheriff and Students Helping OUT).

The program involves the sheriff’s department and deputies in Polk County. The deputies took ten middle and elementary students in Polk County fishing.  Interact was able to obtain small tackle boxes from the Wildlife Commission so each younger student could have their own box. They donated fishing poles for each child to keep, plus they contributed $300 to help cover the cost of T-shirts for the event. Then, the Interact students volunteered to help the younger students fish.

Also to help the SSHOUT program, the Interact group helped Officer Cromer, the school resource officer, raise more than $400 to help with the Needy Family Fund of Polk County. She agreed to do the Polar Plunge if they raised at least $200.

The next time you are having doubts about the younger generation talk to Tanya Ledford. She will tell you about her amazing kids and the amazing kids who attend Polk County High School.