The host of WLBK radio is seated next to a smiling Christi Volkening and Tara Wilkins of Genoa-Kingston schools inside the radio studio.

Did you know that you can hear voices from Genoa-Kingston CUSD #424 every fourth Friday of the month on WLBK AM1360/FM98.9? Representatives from our schools head to the studio to share with the community all the cool things our district is up to. 

Each month, we’ll upload the audio for you so you can have a listen — and include a transcription for those who prefer to read!

This month, Tara Wilkins, librarian at Genoa-Kingston High School, and Christi Volkening, human resources expert for the district, joined the host to talk about the GKHS Impact Club — a group that raises funds for a cause. Some activities this year have included a bake sale to benefit a student at GKHS who is experiencing serious health issues, and a Feed My Starving Children food packing event. Wilkins and Volkening also discussed the group’s next project, which is to partner with Representative Jeff Keicher and Senator Dave Syverson on their Valentines for Seniors program.

Volkening also joined Karmen Ewald, language arts teacher at Genoa-Kingston Middle School, to talk about the Community Impact Club. The group of 6–8th graders is currently planning a Teachers vs First Responders basketball game nonperishable food drive, and is working on its monthly card drive for veterans. 

LISTEN HERE to hear the full story, and see how you can help make an impact! Scroll down for the full transcript.

Want to hear it on the radio? The interview will run again this Sunday morning at 11:40am on WLBK AM1360/FM98.9.

[IMAGE: The host of WLBK radio is seated next to a smiling Christi Volkening and Karmen Ewald of Genoa-Kingston schools inside the radio studio.]


{fight song intro music} 

Terry Ryan:  That, of course is the Genoa-Kingston fight song. I don't mean to tell the three people in the room about that because they're all about that. The CIC, we're gonna talk in acronyms this morning. The CIC is the GKMS' group that provides members with the opportunity to perform community service from the Genoa-Kingston area.

These services aim to help the students grade six through eight, develop leadership skills faster. Foster the development of strong and moral character. They're gonna call me how to read and encourage loyalty to our school, community and nation. Sounds like a pretty good deal. Let me, let's find out here as we talk with Tara. Tara is with the General Kingston High School Impact Club. I got that right. 

Ms. Wilkins: You do. 

Terry Ryan: Good morning. That was a mouthful. I know. I'm exhausted here talking about that. So what, just basically describe to us what the Impact Club is. 

Ms. Wilkins: Well, we do a lot of similar things that Karmen's Group does. But we provide community service opportunities for kids. We raise money for anything that we see. If we see a need, we try to raise money and help families and people in need.

Terry Ryan: Okay. We have Karmen from the middle school. Karmen, how are you doing? 

Ms. Ewald: Great. How are you? 

Terry Ryan: Tell us about it, I'm doing great to us now. Tell us about it because we, folks that haven't had kids in school in a long time. Are they required to do community service now or what? How does that work? Right now with the middle school? 

Ms. Ewald:  At the middle school, they're not required to do services, but they're encouraged. 

Terry Ryan: Okay, sure. 

Ms. Ewald: They have a community class that we have, and so the community service can be logged and then they're recognized for eighth grade promotion, but they're, they're encouraged to do, and that's what Community Impact Club is trying to help, is to encourage them to get out into the community and help us out.

Terry Ryan: Okay. And then we also have Christie with us right now, Christie started to explain what she was, and I told her to save it for the show. So, Christie, tell us how you were involved with the impact club. 

Mrs. Volkening: Hi, good morning. I work at the high school. I'm the HR assistant in the district, and I work with Karmen and Tara, and we do the toy drive, during Christmas through the food hub in Genoa.

Terry Ryan: Okay.

Mrs. Volkening: And I've done the toy drive for at least 16 years. We had a little lull during Covid where we weren't able to do it, but now it's back up and running strong. 

Terry Ryan: So tell us how the kids were involved in the toy drive. How did they get involved? 

Mrs. Volkening: Well, um, Tara and Karmen can probably answer that better.  I'm kind of the, the pick up the toys and distribute them through the hub. Karmen and Tara get the kids involved to get the toys. 

Terry Ryan: All right, well, let's talk about that. So they, I answer that better. Christie, tell us about that. How, or I'm sorry, Karmen, tell us how you got the kids involved with the toy drive.

Ms. Ewald: Well, we just ask for either a new toy or a five to $10 donation, and then when they bring them in, then they are put in a raffle for a pizza party. So it's a little bit of encouragement.  And we had about 10 kids that won the pizza party the day before. And they're just encouraged to bring in those to help and I show videos. They're usually toys for tots videos cuz they have good videos on. 

Terry Ryan: They do, yes. 

Ms. Ewald: Donation. Yeah. I usually show those to try to encourage and then, and then try to inform them how it makes you feel better as a person to help other people, especially during the holiday season. So, no, very good.

Terry Ryan: Yeah. Encouraging. That's what we try to do. We like that. And there's a song to He's four times. Yes, exactly. Yes. Neck cold saying that too. Yep. I don't wanna get Christi in trouble, but she's actually chewing. Now my nun, the nuns that used to teach me, they'd make you put it in your hair, right? They'd have to put that in your hair. Yeah. Or on your nose. Like , you're on your nose.  We will let Christi slide on this one. So let's talk about some of the actual things you guys have done. This is a wonderful group. So how long, uh, Karmen, how long has it. The group been together. Where did this start?

Ms. Ewald: The Impact Club, I started it as a builder's club with Kiwanis about 17 years ago, but our Kiwanis folded in the area and from there I knew this is a really good club. We do really good things for the community, so I wanted to keep the club going. We named it Community Impact Club, and now it's just through the school district instead of with an outside organization. 

Terry Ryan: Okay, so you're with the middle schooler. So is that where they start? Yes. When, what's the youngest, did they start with?

Ms. Ewald: Uh, sixth grade. 

Terry Ryan: Sixth grade, okay. 

Ms. Ewald: Yep, sixth through eighth. 

Terry Ryan: And what does that look like? Do they volunteer or what do they do?

Ms. Ewald: They do, they volunteer. I've got quite a few volunteers. I got about 25 members. It's hit or miss if they can make the meetings. Yesterday we met, we made Valentine's Day cards, um, and for seniors with Representative Keicher. That we'll be sending out to him so that he can send it to the seniors at the nursing homes, um, during breast cancer awareness. 

Terry Ryan: Let's talk about that one, because that's where they write notes to the seniors right now. Were we able to see some of those notes? Cuz those must be just like gold.

Ms. Ewald: Yeah. Well, we didn't write any notes. We actually did contact paper and tissue paper made sort of like a stained glass window so they can put it in their windows. They're heart shaped, so we went more craft than actual Valentine's. We thought it would stay up forever. 

Terry Ryan: That's alright. Alright. And then Tara, you were gonna say something too? What, what, what, what do the high school kids do?

Ms. Wilkins: We do much the same thing. We just gather, make Valentine's. Last year, Representative Keicher and Senator Syverson came and joined us. And made Valentine's with us. So that was really cool. The kids got to meet them, interact with them. This year we'll just be doing it on our own and then we send them out and, well. 

Terry Ryan: Kristie Mulso was telling us that it's Representative Tony McComb, McCombie. Now also I'm helping out, right? 

Ms. Wilkins: Yes. This year she is our area rep, but we're actually going to send some to Representative Keicher as well.

Terry Ryan: Okay, that's fantastic. That's great. We're talking to our friends who are at Genoa-Kingston Community Impact Club. We're learning more about what that is and what they do. And now Feed My Starving Children. Now we have the folks from the Suitor Company come over here every year, and it's amazing they have so many volunteers. But tell us about how the kids helped out with Feed My Starving Children. 

Ms. Wilkins: Oh, every year we volunteer. We've done that probably about six or seven years now. It's a blast. It's a high energy event. You know, and they're helping impact the world. It's important, obviously, to impact your community, but they get a, you know, a better sense of volunteering in a larger community as well.

Terry Ryan: Now, Christie, you're nodding your head over there because what amazes me is that, first of all, how many volunteers that there are, but especially with the kids, they really seem to get it in terms of the kids that don't have food and why it's important to send this nutritional food as opposed to sending a candy or something like that.

Mrs. Volkening: Right, right. I've helped Tara with the Impact Club, I Had a United Way Youth Group and we've always done the Feed My Starving Children. And it's a really fun day. The kids have fun, but they're also understanding what they're really doing. 

Terry Ryan: Yeah, Tara makes that point that it can be fun and it was a fun thing. Mm-hmm. . But the kids really get it though. The bottom line, don't they?

Mrs. Volkening: They do. Yes. 

Terry Ryan: And what is it like to see them? Are we able to watch that happen? Watch the kids do it. 

Mrs. Volkening: You do. You know, you explain to them why you're going over there and, and what the need is. And the way I've always explained it to kids is that, you know, you live in your house and the way that looks, but not everybody lives in that same house. So you have to understand that, you know, the kids that you interact with on a daily basis are coming from different houses than you are. And some of them are really good and some of 'em are not so good. And these people with Feed My Starving children are coming from probably the worst areas. You know, the poorest areas and to think that you eat this because we all get to sample this food and it's okay. But I wouldn't wanna have that be my primary meal. So it is very interesting when they really, when you see them grasp the whole concept. 

Terry Ryan: Yeah, we do, freezing for food every year and we had a little girl who brought her, uh, birthday money, I'm almost gonna cry singing about it, that she heard that other kids didn't have any cereal and she said, I wanna make sure the kids have the cereal. She gave us her birthday money to make sure the kids had cereal. And then to see a little girl like that just understand it, to get the whole concept and to give up. Her birthday money for that was just right. Just magical. That's great to hear that. Now, another thing you guys did also was the annual, well, we mentioned the toy drive, the winter toy drive. Tell us more about the, the toy drive and, and how that all comes about. 

Mrs. Volkening: Well, the toy drive on my part of it, these ladies work with the students to get the toys. And then once the toys are collected, my husband and I go and pick up the toys from the schools.

Terry Ryan: Okay. 

Mrs. Volkening: We take 'em over to the food hub and then we have to count them. So this year the National Honors Kids and Tori Logston came along and helped us. So we take all the toys out of the boxes and we divide 'em up between boys and girls, and then we count them and then, Haley Hunger over at the hub gives us a number of the students that she has, her kids that she has. This year she had 120 kids. 

Terry Ryan: Wow. 

Mrs. Volkening: So we had a little over 500 toys. So everyone got between four and three toys, every child. 

Terry Ryan: Okay.

Mrs. Volkening: So if a family came in  that had four kids, You know, they'd get three or four toys per child. So they walked out with quite a few toys.

Terry Ryan: And I can imagine the relief on mom and dad's faces as they're walking out with the toys.

Mrs. Volkening: Absolutely.

Terry Ryan: Cuz that's probably their biggest concern is their kids for Christmas. And they're great to see that. 

Mrs. Volkening: Yeah, absolutely. And um, we rely on the community for these donations and the churches. This year we did get some things from Toys for Tots. We got about a hundred toys from Toys for Tots.

Terry Ryan: Okay. 

Mrs. Volkening: But you know, it always just happens. This year I had a large cash donation last year. I had a large cash donation. I go to Target and I buy the stuff that's on sale. 

Terry Ryan: Outstanding. So if somebody wants to help out right now that's listening this morning, how can they help out with the food pantry?

Mrs. Volkening: The food pantry, they can contact Heather Hunger. 

Terry Ryan: This happens to be her last name, right? I don't, okay. Well, okay. 

Mrs. Volkening: Yep and she would be willing to take donations. During the toy drive. They can drop toys off at the high school or the middle school and we'll get 'em to the right place.

Terry Ryan: Outstanding. Alright, so tell us more about yourself. Tell us about yourself, Christie. How do you find yourself working in education? Is that something you always wanted to do?  

Mrs. Volkening: Well, nope. I was in banking for about 28 years. 

Terry Ryan: Wait, let me use my joke. You were in banking, but you lost interest. I had to work in my banking joke.

Mrs. Volkening: Exactly. And, then I just, I found my way into education really, and I love it. 

Terry Ryan: Yeah, that's wonderful. After 28 years at another gig, you found the. I found the right one. Oh, God bless you for that. How about yourself? Carmen, tell us about you. Find, how'd you find yourself in education?

Ms. Ewald: Um, just from square one, I guess. From birth, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and here I am, 21 years in and

Terry Ryan: Now was there a teacher? Was your mom or anybody in the family teacher? 

Ms. Ewald: Nobody in the family was a teacher. I'm the first one and I'm hoping there's some grandkids. That will be - can continue that on down the line.

Terry Ryan: So, and tell us about how you started, what did you teach first? Well, my mother was a third grade teacher. I know, it's very interesting. She has, they're, they're big enough to be, they're big enough to be afraid of you. That's small enough that you can control. 

Ms. Ewald: So it's, yeah. We're dealing with middle schoolers here. Where I'm at, ELA, seventh grade. I've been in the district for 20 years. Out of the 21. So I love Genoa and I love the middle school and they say when you love working and with middle schoolers, you belong there . So I officially belong at the middle school cuz they're great kids. The personalities are fabulous.

Terry Ryan: Oh, I was gonna tell you that age is very interesting because that is when the personalities are really coming out, isn't it? 

Ms. Ewald: Oh really, coming out. Yeah. They're getting to know themselves and the people around them a lot. 

Terry Ryan: And how about when you have them giving back, helping them, like what you're doing when, what do you, what is it like to see them? What that they should give back to the community. 

Ms. Ewald: I love to see how excited they are when they bring in their toys and, you know, they know that it's gonna go to a good place. And we do a lot of can drives with the food hub. We do a lot of things that go back out into the community and I just like to see the excitement that they get in their eyes when they do the donations and knowing it's going towards a good cause.

Terry Ryan: That's great too. And Tara, tell us about yourself. How do you find yourself in education? 

Ms. Wilkinson: Oh, my mom raised us to always believe that the pathway to happiness is helping other people. And I can't think of a profession where you get to do that more. I love working with kids. I love inspiring them, lifting them up, building them up. And I started as an English teacher at Genoa-Kingston High School. And then I moved to Chicago and was a librarian on the south side. And I love Genoa so much and I came back in 2008 and I’m never leaving

Terry Ryan: And what are you doing now? You're teaching what What level? 

Ms. Wilkinson: I'm a high school librarian.

Terry Ryan: The librarian, okay. Oh, good for you. And the kids are still reading now are they doing the, the, the books, the electronic books? 

Ms. Wilkins: They are, I would love for them to read a little bit more, but you know, I'll never stop fighting that battle. 

Terry Ryan: Do we still have uh, the little engine that could and euro the turtle? We were talking about kids books the other day. That's my two favorites right there. Are they or the kids reading newer stuff?

Ms. Wilkins: They love science fiction. Dystopian at the high school level. I think the classics will never go away. 

Terry Ryan: But, you know, think, and I want you to look into the Dizz Wizz. Do you know about the Dizz Wizz series?

Ms. Wilkins: I do not.

Terry Ryan: The gentleman who was principal at Littlejohn Elementary School has written a series of children's books called The Dizz Wizz. So check it out. It's based on his kids here in DeKalb. So, all right. Well, it's been a pleasure to meet you three. This is wonderful what you guys are doing. And again, giving back, it's so important cuz we know these young people, once they start giving back at, at the, at the, at the grade school level, they're gonna keep doing it for the rest of their lives, aren't they? 

Ms. Ewald: Right, definitely. And that's what we try to encourage is to get them out in the community and help out and continue it on throughout their lives.

Terry Ryan: The terrific trio from Genoa-Kingston have been our guest here this morning. We thank you guys so much for what you do. Please continue to do that and next time don't chew any gum. You're gonna be in trouble. Thank you so much for being our guest here this morning. 

Ms. Ewald: Thank you.

Ms. Wilkins: Thank you. 

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