By Jim Newell
For active-duty military men and women and their loved ones at home, just getting a phone call can make the difference in the trying times when they are separated by military service.
On Friday, Lake Orion High School students will help bridge that gap by establishing a connection between soldiers and their families with the schools fourth annual Cell Out for Soldiers fundraiser.
Students will voluntarily give up their phones to help raise funds and awareness for Cell Phones for Soldiers’ Minutes that Matter program.
“It’s an event where all the students have the opportunity to give up their phones for the day and they get a free t-shirt for doing it. All the money raised goes to Cell Phones for Soldiers. It’s a really great event that the community can get involved with – we have a lot of sponsors this year,” said senior Grace Jerome, Leadership chair of this year’s Cell Out event.
The fundraiser is planned, organized and administered by the student Leadership class at the high school.
“Cell Out is just so unique because no one else is doing this,” said Leadership Advisor Lori Hogan. “We’re the only ones in the country.”
Participation has grown each year of Cell Out. In 2015, 80 percent of the students participated, and 82 percent participated in 2016.
“Last year we had over 85 percent participation and this year we’re hoping for more. Every year we have to get the freshmen on board, so that’s something we’re working on, including the freshmen. We’re hoping to get about 90 percent participation this year, which will bring it to most of our student body,” Jerome said.
“Overall, everybody really participates in it, everyone really understands what it’s for. They all want to do it, there’s not a lot of people who don’t want to participate or feel like they don’t need to,” said Jacob Meteer, a junior in the Leadership class.
“For every phone that’s turned in, Lake Orion Leadership donates a dollar to Cell Phones for Soldiers. So last year, during the school day, we were able to raise $5,000,” Jerome said. “We also let people donate during lunch. It’s like a miracle minute type of thing. So, in one minute you try to see which lunch – A, B, C or D – can raise the most money.”
“I just think this is awesome because the whole school comes together and everyone doesn’t mind giving their phones up because they know it’s for a good cause. They’re willing to give it up and actually socialize for the day. I think it shows how much we all come together as Dragons and we just love our school,” said Leadership senior Rachel Klein.
The students agreed that it can be difficult for teenagers to give up their phones. “I think it’s very difficult in this age,” said Leadership senior Brooklyn Smart.
The high school also has a new cell phone policy this year: students are not allowed to be on their phones during the day and can face penalties from a warning to detention to suspension.
“They’ve been giving a lot of detentions. Everyone gets really mad because they have to go to school before (class starts) on Wednesdays, so they don’t get late start,” Klein said. “They’ve really been cracking down.”
“You’re allowed to be on your phone during passing time and if a teacher allows you during class, but, overall, they really don’t want you to be on your phone,” Meteer said.
But there is an added benefit to the kids giving up their phones: instead of texting, they’re talking.
“Especially at the lunches, when you go to each lunch, you really see that tables (of students) are actually talking, they’re communicating as opposed to playing games on their phones or being on social media,” Smart said.
“I like it because I think that everyone really talks about the event itself. So, I’ll be like ‘Oh my gosh, Brooklyn, where’s my phone? And I’d be like, oh right, Cell Out. I’m just really dependent on my phone, and that day I realize I should take time and set my phone down and really socialize with my friends,” Klein said.
“I really like it because we communicate more with each other, and overall it’s kind of more fun. Maybe you might not talk as much during class, but now everyone’s really talking to each other instead of being on their phones,” Meteer said.
The Leadership students have to be at the school at 6 a.m. the day of Cell Out, but Meteer said it’s worth it. “I really don’t mind it. It’s for a good cause, it’s fun being here in the morning cheering everybody up, cheering everybody on to donate their phone for Cell Out for Soldiers.”
The greatest challenge for the Leadership class is the logistics of the fundraiser.
“In (Leadership) class we do a lot of stuff the day of. We have to get the boxes to put the phones in. We have to make sure that everyone knows what they’re doing and how they do it and how to make sure there isn’t any issues with the phones and how they handle each phone,” Smart said.
Students will begin collecting cell phones and tablets at 7 a.m. Friday morning. When a student turns in their phone, it goes into a plastic bubble bag with a receipt so the student can get it back at the end of the day.
The student then takes a copy of the receipt to the t-shirt stand to get a free Cell Out for Soldiers shirt to wear.
But for the Leadership class, the sorting madness is just beginning. When collecting the phones in the morning, the Leadership students put the phones in plastic bins. They then must sort each phone into boxes marked with the names of the students last-hour teacher that day.
The boxes are delivered to the teachers’ classrooms so the students can collect their phones before heading home.
“We have to be logistically sound,” Hogan said. “Every phone is secure, every phone is safe and every student gets their phone back at the end of the day.”
The money for shirts and cell phone bags comes from the Leadership fund. Ticket sales from school dances are their biggest source of revenue, and donations and other fundraisers throughout the year help with the Leadership events.
“We take sponsorships throughout the school year. At this point, we can’t put logos on the backs of the t-shirts. But we would love to have any donations come into the school throughout the next week and even a few days after that would allow that money to go directly to the charity on behalf of Lake Orion Leadership to pay for the Minutes that Matter program,” Hogan said.
Lake Orion also is working on getting national attention for the event, trying to get Ellen DeGeneres to notice and put it on her show.
“We’ve been trying. It’s definitely something that would be in her wheelhouse, so we’ve been trying to get one of her staffers to jump on board to show them what we do. We’re not getting a ton of good response, but any response, from any national news outlet would be a positive for us,” Hogan said.
Cell Phones for Soldiers is a national nonprofit providing troops and veterans with free communication services and funding. It was founded in 2004 by teenage siblings Robbie and Brittany Bergquist.
There are two programs within Cell Phones for Soldiers: Helping Heroes Homes and Minutes that Matter, which provides free calling cards to active military personnel so that they can call loved ones. Lake Orion High School donates to Minutes that Matter.
A $5 donation warrants 2.5 hours of talk time, while a $100 donation gives 50 hours of talk time to a soldier.
“We’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks now. It will come down to the day of, selling it to the students and getting them to turn in the phones that day. But, it has gotten such a great response the last three years that we don’t see any problem with the fourth year,” Hogan said.