DAMASCUS, Va. — A group of Washington County students is learning why giving back matters.

Members of the National Honor Society at Holston High School are sponsoring a toy drive to benefit children at Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City.

As president of the school’s organization, Madison Ross said she searched for a service project that would challenge the 39 junior and senior members, as well as offer the students life-changing experiences.

“I wanted our members to branch out beyond Damascus to connect with the larger community. We hope the donated toys will make the children’s hospital feel more like home,” said Madison, a senior at the school.

“I hope the society members get to see how amazing — and humbling — community service really is. It feels good to help others.”

The group of students is asking community residents to help by donating items to the drive, including small- to medium-sized stuffed animals, coloring books, crayons and hairbrushes. All donations must be new items. Stuffed animals must display store tags in order to be accepted.

Donations can be dropped off at the school office by Tuesday, Feb. 19, at which time items will be boxed and loaded on the school van in preparation for delivering the toys to the main lobby of the children’s hospital the following day.

“Unfortunately, we won’t get to meet the children, but our members will send handmade cards to them,” said the student.

Society members have distributed flyers about the toy drive throughout the county and placed donation jars at businesses in Damascus for people to share their spare change.

Money raised from the jars will help the organization purchase additional toys for the drive.

“A lot of National Honor Society members are advertising the drive at their churches and youth groups. I’m hoping this will bring in more donations,” said the society president.

Julie Matlock, faculty adviser for the school’s National Honor Society, said community service projects, such as the toy drive, help her students develop skills and make contacts while allowing them to improve the quality of life for other people.

“Society members must have a 3.5 grade point average minimum to be accepted into the club,” said Matlock.

“But the organization goes beyond that. Students also have to demonstrate good character, leadership and voluntary contributions to the community.

“We’re building student leaders,” said the adviser.

Madeline Moore, a member of the school’s National Honor Society and chair of the donation committee, said the service project has a special meaning for her.

“Two years ago, a close friend of mine was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that changed her life forever. Thankfully, her disease is being managed, and she is living a full life,” said Madeline.

“Through her journey, I have seen how grateful patients in treatment centers are to receive donations from their families, community members — and sometimes strangers.

“This is why I wanted to be the chair for this committee. I have always loved being able to give back to others. I guess that’s why I want to become an elementary school teacher. I have seen the impact teachers have in our community and in the lives of children,” she said.

Her friend Madison understands the rewards of helping others.

“I personally have not had anyone in my life or family go through cancer, but I have seen my friends go through tough times when their family members were sick,” said Madison. “I hope I was a light during their hard times.

“Just as I hope all of us can shed a little light and brightness in the lives of these children.”

For more information about the toy drive, contact Julie Matlock at 276-739-4000 or jumatlock@wcs.k12.va.us.

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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