Severna Park High School sophomore Lilly McCallister didn’t know much about SkillsUSA before friends encouraged her to get involved. She attended an informational club meeting at the start of the school year and learned that the SkillsUSA organization has nearly 400,000 members, has been around since 1965, and includes students, educators and professional members. Additionally, SkillsUSA is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor as a successful model of employer-driven workforce development.
Although the club at Severna Park High School, or SPHS, has only been incorporated for a few years, teams have already competed on national levels.
McCallister immediately joined the SkillsUSA club and volunteered to chair the community service committee. She recruited friends Adeline Faust and Jessica Bui, both sophomores. The trio got to work right away and started preparing for the three-part American Spirit competition, which mandated community service projects in the areas of nation, community and business.
For the national component, the students prepared “hero baskets” for the firefighters at Fire Company 23 — Jones Station and Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Company and delivered them in late February. The team contacted local businesses for donations of snacks and gum, playing cards, hand sanitizer, and personal hygiene items and packed them with personal notes of encouragement and thanks written by Severna Park High School students. Also in the baskets were books donated by Park Books, muffin trays, and gift cards donated by Garry’s Grill. They also assembled hero goody bags filled with similar items that will be shipped to deployed military personnel and to members of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“We don’t always get a chance to say it, but we all appreciate the hard work first responders and soldiers do, so giving back to them is rewarding,” McCallister said. “Actually getting to meet the firefighters and seeing their surprised faces when dropping off the boxes of goodies was fulfilling. They appreciated our hard work, and this felt great.”
Firefighter Brent Costantino was on hand to accept the surprise hero basket at Jones Station.
“Getting cards from SPHS students letting us know how much they appreciate what we do and for taking care of the community was really pretty great,” Costantino said. “We really like Garry’s Grill, so we are going to get lunch as a shift, and the snacks are really good, too. The hero basket was very much appreciated.”
The community component was inspired by a former SPHS student who, in 2019, was hit by a car as she exited her school bus. During her extended hospital stay, she was given a blanket for comfort from the Project Linus organization. After learning how much the blanket meant to the former student, McCallister and team hosted several blanket-making sessions using fleece they acquired through donations. A total of 55 blankets were made to go to Project Linus to be given to sick children.
McCallister said the blanket-making parties were fun but knowing that their creations would be handed out to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or in need felt special.
For the business component, the committee created posters promoting business classes at SPHS. The team was responsible for creating the concepts, content, photography and graphic design of each poster, and together they were hung on the walls throughout the school.
Through community service, McCallister and teammates learned important life and business skills such as improved communication by reaching out to businesses either in writing or verbally, acquiring donations, and organizational skills when preparing project plans.
“I like how SkillsUSA helps me gain skills that I can use like communicating with others, working with peers, problem solving and giving back to my community,” Bui said. “Although obstacles happen, being able to work out problems with my peers helps a lot. I think more students should get involved in SkillsUSA because it prepares us for the real world, and it provides a great learning experience.”
Faust admits she used to be nervous talking to business owners or in front of a big group, but SkillsUSA has provided opportunities to practice and gain experience and confidence.
“I really feel like I have improved my speaking abilities,” Faust said. “Participating in Skills[USA], particularly the competition aspect, has helped me improve my project management skills.”
Michelle Dugans serves as the SPHS faculty coordinator for the SkillsUSA team, and she invites students to learn more about the group.
“For students today, the jobs and careers they might have in the future haven’t even been invented yet, but skills like work ethic, willingness and drive will always be in demand,” Dugans said.
The community service team is slated to attend a state competition at the end of March to explain and present their projects. If they are selected, they will go to a regional competition and potentially nationals.
To learn more about SkillsUSA visit www.skillsusa.org or contact Dugans at email@example.com.