SPHS Students Highlight American Spirit With Community Work

SPHS junior and SkillsUSA team member Jolene Lee (center) helps South Pasadena High students and teachers make cards for active duty troops and veterans for a card drive for Operation Gratitude. Photos contributed by Luyang Zhang

Three South Pasadena High School juniors are making their American mark on the region and overseas with community-service based volunteer work to support the military and military families. As members of SkillsUSA, the students will soon be presenting the work of their projects at regional competition Jan. 25 at Pasadena City College.

SkillsUSA is a national career- and technical-oriented student organization that helps students prepare for leadership in future careers. As the organization’s nationwide theme this year is “America’s Spirit,” student member Andrew Cheung, chapter president Jolene Lee and historian Luyang Zhang developed three distinct community projects.

From Sept. 1 to Oct. 31, they collected around 1,000 pairs of shoes from South Pasadena schools during a shoe drive to support the American Soldier Network, a nonprofit that provides resources for soldiers, veterans and their families.

“We talked with all the elementary schools, middle school and high school to put out a collection box [for gently used shoes],” Lee told the Review. “We really promoted throughout the district and families donated shoes.”

SPHS juniors and SkillsUSA team members Jolene Lee (from left), Andrew Cheung, and Luyang Zhang volunteer at the Operation Gratitude facility in Chatsworth, where they filled care packages with toiletries and food for active duty troops and veterans, Dec. 14, 2019.

The group then delivered the bulging bags of shoes to the ASN, which will take the material to be reused, recycled and some of the better condition shoes will be given to children in need overseas.

The second community project involved a card drive for active service military members, first responders, veterans and their families through Operation Gratitude from Dec. 1 to Dec. 14. Since the organization was founded in 2003, there have been 2.5 million care packages, which include paracord bracelets, scarves, snacks, blankets and letters, delivered around the world.

Their second project was focused on patriotism and citizenship. They hosted a card drive in which middle-school and high-school students crafted thank-you notes for active military members, just in time for the holidays.

“With these cards, students decorated them, wrote about the holidays and showed their appreciation,” said Lee. “It was really fun.”

“I thought it was really gratifying to see how excited the middle schoolers were about it,” added Zhang.

The group collected more than 500 cards and then recruited additional students in order to help assemble care packages at Operation Gratitude’s facility in Chatsworth for a volunteering day Dec. 14.

The group’s third and final project is currently in the planning stages. They’re envisioning creating plans for a mural or a banner to hang at the high school that would encourage more students to pursue career technical education (CTE). It’s possible they may hold a competition for the design.

Looking toward the regional competition at Pasadena City College, group members will document their work in a portfolio, organize photos, prepare a speech and engage in interviews with SkillsUSA judges. If they place within the top three teams, they’ll go on to state competition April 16-19 in Ontario. A first-place at state will boost them to national competition.

Lee said that SkillsUSA serves as a way to gain direction while in school.

“A lot of students who come into high school don’t know what they want to pursue,” said Lee. “It’s a great opportunity to try different things.”

Cheung said he felt the organization was important for more South Pas High students to engage with because “it gives an opportunity to learn more.”

“You really get to give back to the community through these different service projects and volunteering and have more knowledge about different skills,” said Cheung.

The group hopes that through its service work, more students and community members will become involved with causes that are dear to them, whether that’s crafting cards of gratitude for service members or donating used clothes instead of throwing them out.

SPHS juniors and SkillsUSA team members Jolene Lee (from left to right), Andrew Cheung and Luyang Zhang with some of the shoes collected from SPUSD schools for a shoe drive. The shoes were donated to the American Soldier Network to be recycled and reused.