Local teens pay it forward

By Lisa Dayley Smith
For the Journal

POCATELLO – Members of Hawthorne Middle School’s Virtues Club paid it forward in May by handing out roses and also paying for residents’ purchases at Shopko.

It was all done to give youth a lesson in paying it forward. Virtues Club leader Jenifer Fullmer showed her club members how to by being the first to do so. 

“A little elderly lady walked in and I said ‘Hi, ma’am, I’d like to give you a flower to make you smile.’ I got the biggest hug,” she said.

From there, Fullmer’s students took over.

“We had women in tears. These women soaked it in and loved it,” she said. “One of the elderly ladies didn’t say anything but instead put her head on the counter and started crying. The employee started crying.”

The youth told shoppers it was the Virtues Club mission to pay for shoppers purchases.

They also explained it was the club’s mission to pay it forward. The club paid for everything from cookies to toys.

“Shoppers would say ‘you’re kidding’,” Fullmer recalled. “We had a lot of shocked faces. We had fun watching their faces. I get goosebumps every time I talk about it.”

The group helped a woman purchase birthday gifts for her daughter. That, in turn, allowed the woman to buy some shoes for her son.

“The kids said ‘wow, we saved her enough money so she could turn around and get the things he really needed,’” Fullmer said.

One customer had a hard time containing her joy.

“She jumped up and down and started screaming. She said ‘Are you serious?’ She had to hug all 23 of my students. It was kind of cute,” Fullmer said.

The students also helped a first responder who is usually the one doing the helping.

“We noted a firefighter and made a purchase for him for his elderly mother,” Fullmer said. “He thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

The Virtues Club held a raffle where they earned $300 to pay for the purchases. ShopKo later chipped in $40 while Flowers by LD provided the roses.

Fullmer organized the club during the third trimester of the school year after students voiced concerns over bullying and the tragedies it caused.

Instead of giving the club a title containing the word ‘bullying,’ Fullmer and her young charges opted for the more optimistic Virtues Club.

“I said ‘Let’s focus on a title (that tells) us what we should do,’” she said.

Every week, Fullmer asked her club members to do something nice for someone. They checked in with her each morning to detail their progress. The youth also created a large bulletin board highlighting students of the week.

“We highlighted as many as we could. It was so cool,” she said.

The youth also reported back on some of the things they’ve done to spread the cheer.

“They’ll tell me they gave one person a hug or high-fived four kids they didn’t know, “Fullmer said. “They left a sticky note on a teacher’s desk telling them they’re awesome. They have so much fun. It’s like a treasure hunt. The little things like high-fiving a shy sixth grade boy – he lit up the rest of the day and they got to see that. They got to see this big one with this field trip.” 

Fullmer plans to continue the club next year, but it’s her hope that fellow Gate City schools will create their own versions of the Virtues Club.

“I want to rally the troops and have one club in each school,” Fullmer said. “I really think it will make a big difference.”

It definitely made a difference at Hawthorne.

“Several teachers have made tons of comments. They’ll say ‘Wow, Jenifer, this really cool.’ The principal gave us several compliments,” she said.

Fullmer has worn many hats in the year since she’s worked at Hawthorne from serving as a paraprofessional to helping in study hall. Married to Matthew Fullmer, the couple has three children Amber, 19; Mindy, 15, and Mason, 10.

On the last day of school, the Virtues Club members looked through the many pictures showing delighted ShopKo shoppers.

“They’re saying ‘wow, this is the coolest thing ever.’ I just want these kids’ hearts touched. That’s the biggest thing,” Fullmer said. 

Virtue Club students and their club leader Jenifer Fullmer paid it forward at Shopko during the last week of school. After raising $400 in a raffle, the youth used the money to pay for shoppers purchases including everything from cookies to toys. Courtesy, Jenifer Fullmer

Virtue Club students and their club leader Jenifer Fullmer paid it forward at Shopko during the last week of school. After raising $400 in a raffle, the youth used the money to pay for shoppers purchases including everything from cookies to toys. Courtesy, Jenifer Fullmer

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