AMS Builders Club Develops Leadership Skills
When parents and students hear about Builders Club at Ames Middle School, their minds automatically think of construction. However, this club has nothing to do with a traditional view of building or construction but is about developing future leaders. Builders Club is the largest service organization for middle school students, with more than 45,000 members worldwide, according to their website. Members learn to work together and develop servant-leadership skills as they serve their school and community. In partnership with local Kiwanis chapters, clubs can expand their outreach into their communities.
The first Builders Club was chartered in 1975. Today, there are more than 1,600 clubs in 16 different countries. The AMS Builders Club began in 2012 and is led by Erin Bettazza, a Resource Plus teacher at AMS. Bettazza has been leading the club for three years and works with students and the Kiwanis Club on service projects in the Ames community.
“At Ames Middle School, we work with students’ interests and do service projects based on those interests,” said Bettazza.
The Builders Club’s vision is to develop competent, capable, caring leaders through service. Both the students and adults find the service aspect the most engaging and what keeps them returning to Builders Club.
“It’s part of the school, and being part of a club in any way makes me feel connected,” said 7th grader Alice Fields, “but with the community, we are basically giving back to where we live.”
This year’s first service project is a book drive where students are collecting books for Raising Readers, which will be used for the Free Little Libraries around Ames. Students were responsible for developing every aspect of this project, from reaching out to other school buildings to developing flyers and social media. Participants get to fully immerse themselves in their projects and learn from Kiwanis members about what it takes to make a service project successful.
“Every time I read articles about people who are doing great things I think, why am I not doing this?” said Vivian Gassmann, a 7th grader at AMS. “It makes me feel good to do things for my community, and I feel good giving back.”
Builders Club is open to any AMS student interested in giving back to the community through service projects. Though they are a small group of approximately 12 students, they are not to be underestimated in what they are capable of accomplishing. They have accomplished many projects including their second book drive, a scarf project, and a food drive for United Way. Later this school year, participants will go to the animal shelter and then do a project making blankets for the animals.
“This is our second annual book drive, and I think that the students enjoy helping others get books in their hands,” Bettazza said. “It is always fun to watch students get involved and want to help others.”
The concept of helping others is visible within the group. Fields has volunteered with the Ames Public Library and Gassmann, with the assistance of an adult, tutored kids with Raising Readers. Fields says she gets her desire to give back from her dad.
“My dad takes me to places like parking lots or public spaces, and we clean up our community,” said Fields. “It looks so good when we are done, and it makes me feel good.”
Sia Agnihotri, an 8th grader and Builders Club member, received the Rising Star Philanthropist award from the Story County Alliance for Philanthropy in November of 2021 for her Jars of Hope. When Agnihotri heard that COVID cases were rising dramatically in India, she wanted to find a way to help. With many family members impacted, she turned her worry into hope with her fundraiser. The jars of no-bake cheesecake took off in the community and gave Agnihotri a way to help others.
“When people think Builders Club, they think it might be boring,” said Agnihotri. “They don’t know everything we do.”
Even more than giving back and making new friends, the group makes connections in their school and the Ames community. According to Bettazza, Builders Club has speakers who give information about many topics. Students also make connections with other students who have the same interests.
“When I do Builders Club, I feel like I am doing something for my city and making it a better place. To me, that is a really important thing,” said AMS 8th grader Anneka Singh. “You get to know people who enjoy doing this too, so I have been able to make a lot of new friends.”
The group’s hard work is getting recognition in Ames. In November 2022, Builders Club received the Outstanding Youth Group Award from the Story County Alliance for Philanthropy. In the nomination, MaryAnn Lundy from the Ames Town & Country Kiwanis wrote, the many projects completed by the Club required leadership, creativity, and organizational skills. Their Earth Day/Arbor Day project required research to find funding, a plan for the grant required education, collaborating with other community groups, finding resources, and a morning of hard work and learning about tree planting. These many service projects demonstrate the warm, caring hearts and leadership of this small but mighty group of young citizens.
“I am very proud of my Builders Club students,” said Bettazza. ”During the last two years with COVID and online school and online meetings, it made it really hard. However, the students continued to have meaningful conversations and activities. Our group is small, but it is mighty and able to accomplish so many things!”