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Clover High Mechatronics students assembling toys for Holiday Partners

Students Clover High School’s Mechatronics class are working to assemble toys for Christmas.

About 11 students in Wayne Williams’ class will spend at least 10 hours, likely more, combining curriculum for the advanced manufacturing class with community service by assembling vanities, tool benches and kitchenette toys donated to the United Way of York County’s Holiday Partners.

The combined effort – once called the Sleigh Bell Network – includes WRHI’s Toys for Happiness and The Herald’s Empty Stocking Fund, ensuring sure children in need have gifts on Christmas Day.

Jeanie Dubrouillet, United Way’s holiday partners coordinator, said she reached out to York County schools for the first time this year asking for help.

“We still have a lot more toys in the warehouse,” she said. “We don’t have the manpower to put it all together.”

Mechatronics teacher Williams jumped at the chance to get his students involved.

“It was just an opportunity to help children not as blessed as we are,” he said. “It just happened to go with manufacturing, using tools, assembling, and what we cover in class.”

Williams said he hopes to see more opportunities to give like this to other organizations.

“It’s nice to make a difference to someone,” he said.

Clover High has been exceptional, Dubrouillet said, “asking us to bring more and more.” So far last week, more than 30 boxes had been delivered for assembly.

“I didn’t expect it to go this fast,” she said.

The students also are in charge of quality control.

“They are making sure no parts are cracked or broken,” she said. “We want everything top quality.”

Jacob Willis, a junior, said he’s had lots of experience putting toys together for his younger siblings, including a Barbie Dream House in one hour and Rescue Hero play set.

“Girls’ toys are harder to assemble because they have more parts and are intricate,” he said.

Willis credited his teacher for the project and said “I think it’s a good thing we’re doing.”

Junior Sean Rowlinson, who was putting together a tool bench, said he was glad the class was able to do this project.

“It feels good to do something for people who can’t do for themselves,” he said. “It makes me want to help more. It really warms my heart.”

Junior Cody Watkins said he has volunteered at shelters in the past with the Junior Air Force ROTC, but “it was nothing like this; it’s a whole lot more.”

“It think it’s pretty cool to have more hands on experience, and even though it’s just popping things together, it’ll be good for little kids,” he said.

Martha Jean Starnes, work-based learning coordinator at Clover High, has been on the United Way of York County board of directors four years.

“I wanted to see students in western York County get involved,” she said. “I’m very proud of the students for giving back.”

While Starnes watched the students assembling the toys Nov. 25, she saw something more for these Santa helpers.

“This is great practice for these guys 10 to 15 years from now on Christmas Eve,” she said.

Other school groups are also pitching in, including Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, Rock Hill High School’s special needs transition program; and Beta Club members at York Preparatory Academy.

Holiday Partners serves families with children from age birth to 14 years old.

The Empty Stocking Fun collects monetary donations to bridge the gap between families in need and donated toys. Toys For Happiness collects donated toys. Both efforts are overseen by the United Way of York County to maximize the community impact.

The Empty Stocking Fund serves York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Donations received from people in Lancaster and Chester counties are sent directly to agencies in those counties – not to the Holiday Partners efforts, which serves only York County.

Donations of new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Happiness or monetary donations for the Empty Stocking Fund will be collected through Dec. 22.