There are a lot of things the students at Heideman Elementary are too young to do.
“Are you too young to drive?” Haylee Forster asked the group of several hundred students sitting cross-legged on the blacktop Tuesday morning.
Most of the hands shot up, with some older students claiming they could handle a car, if they really needed to.
“Are you too young to get married?” she asked.
Every hand in the crowd reached high this time and several children snickered.
“What about change the world?” said Forster, head coach for the nonprofit Team Kids. “Are you too little to do that?”
She answered for them: “You are the perfect age to change the world.”
Team Kids in partnership with the Tustin Police Department and the Orange County Fire Authority hope to inspire students to make a notable impact in their community through small acts of selflessness and kindness.
“I’m going to give you the opportunity to really make a difference, to change someone’s life,” Forster told the students. “When you do that, you start to change the world.”
Tuesday marked the kick-off rally for Heideman’s third go-round participating in the Team Kids Challenge — a program that brings community role models, such as police officers and firefighters, to elementary schools to encourage children to engage in service.
The program started 15 years ago in Irvine and has since expanded to several other Orange County cities, including Irvine, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, as well as Los Angeles County and even across the country in Virginia.
Tustin joined the program two years ago and has held challenges at Thorman, Nelson and Veeh elementary schools.
“(Team Kids) teaches about teamwork, self-worth and how to make a difference in their community,” said Tustin PD Motor Officer John Hedges, who oversees the police department’s involvement in the program. “It is our hope we can help develop a stronger community and empower our youth to be responsible, compassionate and dedicated leaders.”
The students commit to the month-long challenge that incorporates charitable giving each week.
The Heideman students will collect food for the nonprofit Families Forward, clothing for the homeless, and blankets, towels and dog toys for a local animal shelter.
Some of the fifth and sixth graders also will volunteer for a leadership committee to plan a student-run carnival. All the money raised at the lunch-time carnival on May 21 will be donated to a local nonprofit the children choose in week two of the program.
Team Kids estimates the total value of the donations the students bring in and the money they raise comes to about $6,000 with each challenge.
The Team Kids Challenge has prompted several other police partnerships with the Tustin Unified School District including an after-school running club coached by local officers and a weekly game night with students, Hedges said.
“We have definitely seen an impact since Tustin PD has put a concerted effort to get involved in the community,” he said. “Being active in the school has been great because when I’m out in the field and I see students I have helped through Team Kids, they feel comfortable coming up and talking to me.
“Those little things have a huge impact.”