GREENFIELD — Kayden Bensheimer handed the preschooler a pair of safety scissors and chuckled as the girl drove them mercilessly through her art project — a mosaic of a fish — to make a hole for pipe-cleaner decorations.

The project capped off a day of service aimed at connecting high school students like Bensheimer with Hancock County children in need. The group — four students from each county high school — represents the board of youth philanthropy ambassadors known as Y-GIVE, for “youth giving, investing and engaging.” And Wednesday, the volunteers put their mission into action to provide an educational opportunity for children in low-income families.

With the guidance of Y-GIVE coordinator Bernie Campbell and administrative associate McKenzie Poole, they deliberated where to focus their efforts this year and selected a literacy project to benefit youth education in the county, said Greenfield-Central High School freshman Alli Bowman. They reasoned younger residents deserved their efforts this year, because one day, those same youngsters could be community leaders, she said.

The literacy kits they delivered Wednesday featured a book, school supplies and activities for preschoolers at the Greenfield Head Start preschool to have and continue learning at home.

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“The literacy kits are something that will have a longer-lasting impact than just the one day the students will be there,” said Campbell, who is serving his second year as the coordinator of the youth philanthropy program. “So often, projects make an impact for that day, but the best type of project makes an impact and spurs learning that takes place after.”

The supplies for the kits were purchased using “Field of Interest” funds from the Hancock County Community Foundation, and Bernie and Barb Campbell donated the 20 books, Poole said.

Head Start, a state program started in 1965 to foster healthy development in low-income children, works to involve students’ families in their child’s health and education, said teacher Denise Dollens.

A project the children not only enjoy for the day but can share when they go home supports those efforts, she said.

She praised the Y-GIVE board and their coordinators for choosing to support early childhood education.

Head Start stresses that a child’s parent is their first and best teacher, so students wanted to make sure their project would encourage the preschool students to play and read at home, Poole said. Each high-schooler also wrote a short encouraging note for a preschooler to take with them, Poole said.

And before they left, the board surprised Dollens and the students with a $350 grant they can use for anything in the classroom.

“That is so sweet,” Dollens exclaimed before leading the 20 children in a rousing “thank you!”

Mt. Vernon High School senior Meridan Eads has served on the Y-GIVE board since she was a sophomore and has completed a variety of projects, including painting elementary school playgrounds throughout the county and raising money for county schools’ education foundations.

Last year’s project mainly involved fundraising, but this project encouraged Eads and her peers to remember what it was like to be 4 and 5 years old and consider what items could best help students that age learn.

Reading alongside the students and encouraging them fulfilled the “engage” portion of the Y-GIVE mission and was rewarding for the young leaders.

“It was super fun,” Eads said. “We’ve gotten to interact with people a lot more than last year.”

Mt. Vernon High School senior Damari Gatewood has a brother around the same age as the preschoolers, but he was still surprised by how excited — and how loud — a room full of 3- and 4-year-olds can be.

“I would have never expected that,” he laughed. “But it was fun.”

Though it was tough to choose one area of need over another, Bowman, a freshman at Greenfield-Central High School, said the majority of the board members were glad to work with the youngsters.

“It was a great feeling to see the smiles on their faces when we walked in,” she said.

2017 Y-GIVE board

Eastern Hancock High School

  • Victor Olivo, sophomore
  • Ryan Burris, sophomore
  • Abby Brown, junior
  • Abby Marden, senior

Greenfield-Central High School

  • Alli Bowman, freshman
  • Tyler Murphy, sophomore
  • Parker Niemeier, junior
  • Alexis Zell, senior

Mt. Vernon High School

  • Lexie Shelton, freshman
  • Kayden Bensheimer, freshman
  • Meridan Eads, senior
  • Damari Gatewood, senior

New Palestine High School

  • Addi Jones, freshman
  • Grace Hobbs, sophomore
  • Austin Keele, junior
  • Nick Rushe, senior
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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.