LEAWOOD, Kan. — The Fox 4 Young Achievers of the Week inspired hundreds of children and teens from across the globe to join them in helping children in foster care. These middle school girls from Johnson County came away from this year’s Odyssey of the Mind World Finals honored as Odyssey Angels — creating an impressive real-world community service project.
The kitchen and family room of the Thurlby home in Leawood, KS is often a beehive of activity. It is here that seven very bright, active and extremely focused girls get together with their coach to do Odyssey of the Mind. OM is an international educational program for students from kindergarten through college to do all kinds of creative problem-solving projects and compete with them. On the afternoon of Fox 4’s visit the girls were deep into a major new project — bouncing from table to table to floor — brainstorming and writing personal letters to potential sponsors and donors and decorating canvas bags for 100 foster children.
“And we’re going to ask Jockey and Hanes to donate socks and underwear so that we can give them to the foster kids in these colorful canvas bags,” says team member Hannah Thurlby. it may seem like a daunting task to some — a bunch of middle schoolers trying to come up with enough socks and underwear to supply to 100 or so foster kinds. But this group already has dramatic success that gives them the confidence they can get it done.
“Oh, I’m very confident,” says team member Angela Shilling, “because we’ve already made over 300 blankets for foster children. I think if we can do that, we can definitely donate some socks and underwear.” That’s right — personal, individual blankets for 300 foster kids — blankets they get to keep no matter where they go. The girls launched that Odyssey of the Mind community service project — an Odyssey Angels project — after learning about Tammy Spears and her family of 17 kids who were adopted out of the foster system.
“It was just amazing they were interested in, ‘What could we do to help?'” says Spears. “That’s not usually a sentiment you get from kids their age. ‘What can we do to help? Howe do we help kids in foster care?'” The girls took it way beyond the Spears family. With fabric donated by Jo-Ann’s stores, they made 50 blankets themselves. Then they got to showcase their project at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals competition in Michigan where about 1000 other OM competitors, coaches and parents jumped in to help make the rest over three days.
“I thought it was really cool because we are changing so many lives by just doing one little small deed,” says team member Julie Clarkson. “And if everyone did it then they could change as many lives as we did.” With that blanket project for foster kids, the girls were named the top Odyssey Angels team in the world.
“And the way the girls really won the award was by not quitting,” says their coach, Kristin Thurlby. “They thought, ‘How can we get more fabric? How can we do this bigger?’ And that’s who they are because of Odyssey of the Mind. They keep thinking bigger and grander.” And the girls got to come back and share the exciting news of their achievement with Tammy Spears and tell her about their new socks and underwear project.
“These girls just have a heart for this,” says Spears. “I mean, you can see it in their smiles, in their eyes. This is awesome for them.” And awesome for the hundreds of kids they help — and the thousands they inspire.
The team is made up of Angela Shilling, Emily Moore, Maggie Holland, Alina Nichols, Joy Clarkson, Julie Clarkson, and Hanna Thurlby. Their coach is Kristin Thurlby. The girls all go to middle schools in the Blue Valley School District — six to Harmony and one to Aubry Bend. And Tammy Spears doesn’t just adopt and raise a slew of foster children. She also is a family advocate at Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association in Independence, MO.
Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.
Phil Witt, FOX 4 News