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Students help pack Backpack Buddies kit
UW honors life-skills class for service
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United Way Liberty County director Jennifer Darsey serves cake to life skills students Thursday. The class was recognized for its efforts this year packing backpacks for Backpack Buddies. - photo by Photo by Danielle Hipps

They have spent Thursday mornings during the past year counting, packing and sorting thousands of meals for the Liberty County Backpack Buddies program, and 12 students from Liberty County High School’s life-skills class were recognized for their efforts this week.
Students in Angela McDonnell’s class were treated to a pizza party, cake and certificates Thursday at the advisory board meeting for the United Way of the Coastal Empire Liberty County office.
“It’s my favorite day of the week,” UW Liberty director Jennifer Darsey said. “They make life light and they’re always smiling, and they usually listen to the Jackson Five. They’re dancing and moving and getting things done — and to pack over 20,000 meals is pretty impressive.”
The students may be giving their time and talents, but they’re receiving in the process.
Working on the weekly food-outreach project that now serves more than 375 area students is among the business-based projects required in the students’ curriculum.
“This is the counting, sorting, quality control; this is that skill set that they’re learning. They’re learning that responsibility because each of them have a very specific, assigned task,” Darsey said.  
McDonnell said the students always are eager to go pack the bags, which they started doing in September.
“It’s worth mentioning that what started out as about 2-1/2 hours now takes well less than two hours,” McDonnell said, though the number of bags packed by the students has grown with the program. “That skill they’re learning has gotten faster.”
The students also run an ice-cream booth and recycling operations at their school, and McDonnell said those jobs call on the same skill sets — following directions, working as a team and maintaining their attention for long periods of time.
“I think they’re all fantastic,” she added.
Christopher Lewis, a senior in McDonnell’s class, said he loves packing the juices and the “sketti.”
“It feels good. I just love doing it for the kids, I guess,” he said, adding he’s learned a lot about how to help others.
His sister, Christion Williams, came to celebrate with her brother and said she is proud that he’s helping others.
“It’s about kids serving kids. These are children with special needs, and they’re willing to open up their hands and open up their heart, and if you ask any of them what they’re doing, they know it’s to help feed other children,” UW Liberty Director Jennifer Darsey said. “They know exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and they take a lot of pride in it.”

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