Weathering the storm

Prairie High School Key Club helps teachers return to normal after violent weather.

By Cindy Dashnaw 

Until August 10, 2020, Laurie Worden had never heard of a weather phenomenon known as a derecho. But on that day, a storm front 250 miles wide with winds gusting to 145 mph passed through Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for almost 90 minutes, leaving behind destruction that Worden describes as “dystopian. It was like a bomb had blown up in our neighborhood.”

She found a silver lining in that forbidding bank of clouds, though: the generous hearts of the Cedar Rapids Prairie High School Key Club, which she founded.

The storm uprooted 20-foot trees, bent steel structures and ripped down houses, coming up so fast it killed an unsuspecting cyclist. In the aftermath, families who couldn’t live in their homes and couldn’t go elsewhere because of COVID-19 moved into tents. 

Those affected included teachers. Dr. Doug Wheeler, College Community Schools district superintendent, wanted to offer teachers and staff free day care at the high school for the first three weeks of school. But when volunteer coordinator and Cedar Park Kiwanian Kathy Waychoff looked for volunteers, “I hit a brick wall,” she says. “So I reached out to Laurie and Key Club and said, ‘Listen, I need help.’”

It should’ve been a tough sell. But it wasn’t. 

“They were a shining light,” Waychoff says. “No hesitation.”

Twenty-one Key Club members volunteered 395 hours helping 71 children stay active and keep up with their homework. Worden wasn’t surprised at how quickly Key Club members built trust and relationships with their small charges. Projects like this give her teens a way to use what’s already in their hearts to help others, she says.

“Three years ago, they heard a speaker from the Thirst Project talk about building clean water wells in Africa. Our (Key Club) vice president had fire in her eyes and said, ‘We have to raise US$12,000 to fund a well.’ That’s a lot of money. But 18 months later, they’d done it, and we built a well at a Swaziland village high school.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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