by James Coulter
Twas the week before Christmas, and the folks at Lake Wales Wellness Rehab received an early Christmas treat. Students from the Interact Club at Lake Wales High School arrived to deliver stockings filled with Christmas gifts and treats.
Two students and two teachers arrived on Thursday afternoon to deliver 75 stockings filled with small toys, activity books, hand lotion, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other toiletries. The stockings had been funded and stuffed by members of the club within the past month.
The Interact Club decided to donate to the Rehab Center due to its proximity to the high school. This is their second year participating in the student-driven project. They contacted the center to inquire about items patients needed, and the students donated the items to place into stockings and distribute them to the patients in the center.
The club members had planned to donate over the past week, but the high school football championship game delayed their plans until recently, explained Micky Caban, LWHS teacher and Interact Club sponsor.
“The residents enjoyed us coming in and delivering the stockings,” she said. “We want to do it again this year.”
The Interact Club serves as a daughter club to the Rotary Club, with it being sponsored by the Lake Wales Breakfast Rotary and the New Rotary Club of Lake Wales. Their mission, as exemplified in their motto “Service Above Self,” is to encourage students to participate in their local community through community service projects.
“It gives our students the ability to give back to the community in a way they normally cannot do or not have the ability to do,” Caban said. “They have a chance to choose these gifts themselves…it gives them a sense of purpose and the fact that they are contributing to the community and the fact they put their own money into this, it gives you a sense of purpose, too.”
The Interact Club has participated in other community projects and activities from the annual Christmas parade to special occasions such as Pioneer Days and Make It Magical. Recently, they partnered with the Lake Wales Heritage Foundation to plant trees downtown.
“The collaboration of the students, this is part of growing up to see people who are civil-minded and giving back to the community,” said Lauren Lightsy, teacher and club sponsor. “They have not had the opportunity to invest in the community in those ways, it is easy for them to network and get out of their shells and talk to people they would never speak to before.”
Sklyer Eppes, 18, has been participating in the club since her freshman year. Though COVID-19 made her sophomore year difficult, she has since climbed the social ladder to her current position as club president, permitting her to help organize club events and projects.
She likes interacting with people in the club and the community and forming relationships with them. She appreciates being able to reach out to people in her hometown and assist them with their needs.
“I would say Interact Club helped me with communication skills [and to] take on more responsibilities,” she said. “I love that we can give back to the nursing homes and give back to the community.”
Devon Zenteno, 18, was inspired to join the club by his sister, who had also been a member when she was in high school. With this being his second year, he appreciates being able to give back to the local community and helping it with local projects.
“We do a lot of things to give back as students [like] visiting the elderly,” he said. “Being in Interact Club is time-consuming [with] managing school work and projects. I think this is a great project and we are glad to give back, especially around Christmastime.”