Caring Cats recognizes students for kindness


JASPER — When Jasper High School senior Ivy Deis got called to the office earlier this month, she assumed she was in trouble. Instead, she received good news. She’d been chosen as one of four students to go on a fully paid shopping spree that month.

Deis’ reward is part of Caring Cats, a Jasper High School program that rewards about four students a month — two boys and two girls — with a shopping spree at Glik’s on the city’s north side, chaperoned by office manager Deb Schum and school social worker Holly Hughes. To receive the reward, students must be nominated by one of their teachers, and they’re not told who nominated once they win.

Teachers nominate students who do acts of kindness, improve in class or generally do what they’re supposed to do for the reward. This month, Deis, junior Carson McElwain and freshmen Kayli Hoffman and Edwin Zavala were chosen. They spent their Friday afternoon browsing the racks at Glik’s.

“I think it’s something really cool about Jasper that you can’t find at other schools,” Hoffman said.

Prior to the trip, none of the four knew Caring Cats existed. While the program isn’t a secret, Schum said she likes to hear when students who are chosen haven’t heard of the program.

“That, to me, says their actions are sincere,” she said.

Although Schum and Hughes encourage the students who go on the spree to purchase items for themselves, Schum said it’s not uncommon for students to get gifts for their family or friends, too. That was again the case Friday when McElwain looked for something to get his girlfriend for their five-month anniversary. After consulting Schum and Hughes for ideas, he settled on a fuzzy hooded sweatshirt. It was perfect, he said, because she’s always cold and borrows his sweatshirts.

Caring Cats began in 2012 when Assistant Principal Glenn Buechlein joined Jasper High School. There’d been a similar program at his previous school, so he brought the idea with him. In the years since, Caring Cats has grown into a team effort among school staff, and rewarded  just short of 200 students with a shopping spree. To fund the program, staff members fundraise, paying $1 on Fridays to wear jeans and seeking donations from the community. In the past, staff members donated their time working concessions at auctions at the Hutson John Deere dealership in Ireland auctions. So far, the staff has raised about $18,000 for the program, and spent about $15,000 of that money.

Although rewarding students with a shopping trip is the focus of Caring Cats, the program also reaches out to help students in other ways. In 2015,  a JHS family’s home caught fire, so school staff tapped Caring Cats to help with the purchase of new clothes. The program has also helped seniors purchase graduation gowns and other students purchase school supplies or lunch during difficult times. Once, the program helped a student repair his vehicle so he could continue working to help support his family. 

Beyond rewarding students for good work, Caring Cats helps build relationships between students and staff. During the outings, Schum and Hughes interact with and get to know the students. The students, too, get to make new friends. Deis, McElwain, Hoffman and Zavala had never met before Friday. Not long into the trip, however, Deis and Hoffman were helping each other pick out tops in the women’s section, and McElwain and Zavala were chatting in the men’s section. All four agreed the afternoon was a nice unexpected reward.

“I never go clothes shopping,” McElwain said. “This has been really fun.”

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