December 19, 2013

150,000 can tabs on the wall

Career Academy students gather aluminum for charity

By Christopher Smith

— In 1998, Kris Groves was watching her son Destin, then 9, struggle with a bad heart.

Having hypoplastic heart syndrome — a defect where the left ventricle doesn’t develop — kept Destin stuck in Egleston Pediatric Hospital in Atlanta for months of surgery at a time. So Kris Groves knows the importance of the Ronald McDonald House Charities organization, which offered a free place for her near the hospital while she waited on her son’s recovery.

Kris Groves, who now works as a secretary at the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy, is giving back to the cause close to her and her son’s heart by helping Career Academy students collect aluminum drink can tabs.

Students and staff have been collecting the tabs from cans since September after teacher Zach Poole got the school excited about the idea of turning them into a donation. The school gathered roughly 150,000 tabs that were turned into the Chattanooga branch of the Ronald McDonald House last week, kindling memories for Kris Groves.

Poole said those tabs translate to about $100 in donations after officials with the Ronald McDonald House trade the aluminum tabs to companies that recycle them.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot,” Poole said. “We talked to our kids and told them, ‘It’s not going to make a huge difference, but anything for people who need help is good.’”

That’s especially true in the recent economic downturn, he added.

Destin is “doing fine now,” Kris Groves said. He graduated from Phoenix High School after three years at Northwest Whitfield High School. She said he is 24, married and “happy,” adding that his heart is expected to remain healthy for the rest of his life.

“I didn’t like being away from the hospital. I didn’t leave until Destin left,” she remembered. “The (Ronald McDonald house) wasn’t really home though.”

But it wasn’t a hospital either, she added, and having a good, quiet bed outside the hospital gave her a “place to get away” from the stress of the ICU.

McKenzie Fuller and Jennie Jones, two sophomores with roughly 40,000 tabs between them, “drank a lot of Coke cans” to support the cause, they said.

At first, their motivation was to get free pizza, the prize Poole promised for the person or group who brought in the most tabs. But soon the duo realized they were also doing good.

“We helped people,” Jones said.

“It was a lot of work,” Fuller added. “It was thousands of tabs. I got very bored gathering them, but it was worth it to help people.”