A group of students at Adairsville Middle School are learning what it's like to be a disciple of Jesus.
Last month, the 10 student-leaders of the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter launched the Open Paws Store, a community event that offers gently used clothing and shoes as well as hygiene items at no cost to anyone in need in the Adairsville area.
The store was the result of some brainstorming by the leaders — eighth-graders Gracie Baker, Andy Barnett, Cooper Brown, Ashlynn Curry, Brett Lance, Annie McCormick, Jo Beth O’Kelley, Sidney Wilkins and Jenna Young and seventh-grader Ethan Lowery — and their two sponsors, math enrichment teacher Michael Roberson and seventh-grade teacher Brittney McCord.
"We were working through a book study on being a disciple of Jesus," Roberson said. "After the first session, I [along with McCord] just thought and decided it would be much better to show the kids through experience what it meant to be a Christ-follower instead of just filling their heads with knowledge. One of the four C’s of FCA is community so we started asking how we could serve our community through FCA at AMS. This is one of the ideas that came about through answering that question."
Roberson said he hopes the students will develop a "servant’s heart, a love for others" by participating in the project.
"I want them to grow in their relationship with Christ," he said. "In the Bible, Jesus talks a lot about loving and serving others, giving generously. That is what he did. I want them to follow his example and understand that being a Christian is more than just going to a church service on Sunday."
Principal Tony Stanfill said he is "so proud of our FCA leaders for taking the lead" on a project like this. "They wanted to do more community service this year in order to help lead by example," he said. "They recognized a need in our community, and they figured out a way in which they could help."
Stanfill said Roberson brought the idea to him, and "it was a no-brainer, and I instantly gave them my approval."
"As their principal, I am honored and humbled to have such an amazing group of young people who want to do more for their fellow Adairsville family members," he said. "I say family because we're a small, tight-knit community which is always willing to lend a helping hand to our neighbors in need. These kids are just one example of what makes this the best place I've ever worked."
Jo Beth, 14, said she and her fellow leaders are happy to participate in the project.
"We like serving and helping people in our community," she said.
For the October store, Roberson said 10 families — roughly 16 to 20 people — visited, and everybody left with something.
"We had hoped for more people, but considering it was our first one, we think it was good," Annie, 13, said.
And their first one made an impression on the young leaders.
"There are more people in need than we realized in our community," Jo Beth said.
"Makes us realize how blessed we are," Annie added.
With the inaugural one under their belts, the student-leaders will open the store two more times during fall semester — this Saturday and Saturday, Dec. 15, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day in an outside storage room built onto the side of the school near the gym.
"For the November store, we will also have racks along the sidewalk right outside that storage room," he said.
The store will offer clothing ranging in size from toddler to adult, shoes and hygiene items, mostly soap, shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, Roberson said.
"We hope to have some jackets/coats and blankets for the November and December stores," he added.
The clothing and shoes are arranged by sizes on racks, and the different hygiene items are set on tables.
"The leaders are there to serve and assist the people who come in however needed," Roberson said. "They greet them, give them a bag and just share a smile. There really isn’t much assistance needed when it comes to looking through the clothes."
The merchandise in the store primarily came from the school, but members of the community chipped in as well, according to Roberson.
"We challenged our leaders to go home and clean out their closets of clothes and shoes they had outgrown or just didn’t need so some came from them," he said, noting the project started in mid-September. "The teachers and staff of AMS donated a lot of items as well as parents and others in the community. Word got out, and people started bringing in stuff. We also have a teacher here at AMS who is in the process of adopting a child. Her husband and she had a huge yard sale and donated all the clothes and shoes they had left over from the yard sale."
For the personal-hygiene products, the school had a homeroom competition to see which homeroom in each grade level could collect the most items, and the three winning classes received a pizza or ice cream party.
"As a school, we donated close to 2,000 hygiene items," Roberson said.
The FCA, which has 75 to 150 students meeting every other Friday morning, plans to open the store at least once during spring semester, probably in April "as the weather starts turning warmer," the sponsor said.
"We will evaluate how it goes for these coming up in November and December and go from there," he said.