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Published in Print: January 1, 2001, as Handle With Care

Handle With Care

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Like many American schools, Lenoir City High in Knoxville, Tennessee, has security cameras and a counseling department to prevent fights among its 1,000 students from escalating into Columbine-like incidents. But perhaps its best weapon against violence is Dave Moore, a veteran football coach and physical education teacher, and his "Care Club."

In 1997, Moore decided to create a group for students adrift socially. He invited kids to join him at a Care Club table outside the cafeteria one Friday during lunch. To increase the club's draw, Moore recruited local celebrities such as former NFL kicker Fuad Reviez to talk with Care Clubbers. As the year progressed, more people—including teachers and custodial staff—gathered for musical performances, prize drawings, donation drives, and a chance to hang out with each other.

These days, the Care Club boasts 450 members who proudly wear their club T-shirts on Fridays. While members gather for community service activities as well as weekly meetings, the focus of the organization is practicing acts of kindness that create a supportive environment at the school. Students give baked goods to teachers to show appreciation for their work. The club sends cards to each student and staff member on their birthdays, enclosing coupons from local merchants for free putt-putt golf, movies, and pizza. Club members also call students who are absent for three days or more or have gone home sick for the day. "It is not a truancy call but just tells them we care about them and they were missed," Moore explains.

Mary Blakney, who's worked in the cafeteria for 34 years, believes the club has improved the social atmosphere at the school: "I've noticed there is less focus on cliques. Students will move around and talk to everyone now."

"The Care Club has given me a sense of belonging and responsibility through my involvement," says Adam Waller, a Lenoir City graduate and freshman at the University of Tennessee, who helped Moore start the program. "At first everyone thought it was a joke. But then they realized that the club was here to stay and that we were sincere." Genuine caring is the secret to the group's success, says Moore: "You have to give all of yourself because young people are better detectors of sincerity than most adults."

Vol. 12, Issue 4, Page 60

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