By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
In celebration of Valentine’s Day, 15 high school students of the Marysville School District (MSD) organized a beautiful and heartwarming event that brought endless smiles to special needs students across the district.
Officially dubbed Operation Heart to Heart, the event originally made its debut three years ago and was organized entirely by the Marysville Getchell Native American and Friends Club. The club planned the first gift giving event to spread love and kindness to developmental learning program (DLP) classrooms within MSD, and it’s grown every year since.
This year the Marysville Pilchuck United Native Club joined-in on Operation Heart to Heart. The two clubs also partnered with Leah’s Dream Foundation and the Tulalip Tribes, both of which made contributions to the project. Additionally, the clubs released a flyer at the top of the year which asked the community for donations of coloring books, crayons, fidgets, colored pencils, stickers, stuffed animals, and small toys. The club members then assembled gift bags to distribute to several schools throughout the district in the few weeks leading up to the annual event.
Said Charley Dick, President of the MG Native American and Friends Club, “Today we delivered all the Operation Heart to Heart donations, which was really heartwarming. It’s nice to be able to go see everyone and to just see all the smiles on everyone’s faces. It really makes me feel like our club is doing good things and like we are positively affecting the community, because we’re all about inclusion, building community, and making a good impact.”
Operation Heart to Heart 2024 kicked-off on the morning of February 13, at Quil Ceda Tulalip. In a classroom of just four students, as the new DLP is still in its infancy stage, the two clubs presented the first gift bags of the holiday season. The clubs, along with a handful of MSD Native liaisons, then offered a traditional song to the students before saying their farewells and continuing on their journey.
In total, the clubs visited seven schools, four elementary schools, two middle school schools, and one high school over a two-hour span. Getchell’s 18-21 special needs teacher, Jim Strickland joined the excursion at the second stop and brought out his acoustic guitar to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to the DLP students while the club members distributed the gift bags.
The clubs were met with warm welcome at each of the seven campuses, some classrooms even made posters and valentine’s cards for the high schoolers in anticipation of their arrival. And though the amount of time the clubs spent at each school was brief, there was still plenty of laughter, dancing, hugs, smiles, and warm fuzzies to go around during the Valentine’s Day event.
Amy Sheldon, MSD Special Education Native American liaison, expressed an overall excitement to see inclusivity celebrated by students in today’s school system. All throughout the Heart to Heart event, Amy beamed with pride as she watched the club members interact with the students at each and every school.
Amy shared, “I think the important thing is for our students to realize that they’re making a difference by including others, and understanding, and being accepting of others. I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished, and they’re really enjoying what they’re doing. My favorite part of the day was seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces. I want all special needs kids to feel like they’re part of something in our schools – and I’m really happy that our students [in the clubs] are stepping up.”
After making their rounds at Quil Ceda Tulalip elementary, Marshall elementary, Marysville Pilchuck high school, Cedarcrest middle school, Kellogg Marsh elementary, and Grove elementary, Operation Heart to Heart concluded at Totem middle school. Following the distribution and song offering, the two clubs elected to take one big group picture together. And with the success of today’s event, the groups expressed a desire to work on future endeavors together, in addition to supporting each other’s upcoming projects.
“This is really important to me, because I just want to make sure that everyone feels included,” expressed Charley. “It’s really nice to know that we’re making a lot of these kids’ days. It’s important to let them know that they have a community, that they have people who care about them, because a lot of students do face bullying. Knowing that they’re included in activities like these, and knowing that when they do go to middle school and high school, that they have people who are there for them and who will give them that safe space is important.”
Both of the clubs will continue to host events and activities throughout the school year. Be sure to follow the MG Native American and Friends Club and the Marysville Pilchuck High School Facebook pages for more information.