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Sharing smiles

The Happiness Club served free hot chocolate to students as they arrived at school on the final day of classes before Christmas break. Pictured are members (left to right) Madison Nowling, Micah Hedstrom, Sam Christenson, Payton Grandgenett, Courtney Bitzan and Jana Roste. (Contributed)1 / 4
Happiness Club members hand-wrote notes of appreciation to District 206 teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week last fall. 2 / 4
Happiness Club members Courtney Bitzan and Emily Thul (left to right) volunteered at an Alexandria Senior Center fundraiser in January. (Tara Bitzan/Echo Press)3 / 4
The Jefferson High School Happiness Club is dedicated to promoting happiness in the school and the community. The club just started this fall but quickly grew to more than 40 members. (Contributed)4 / 4

There’s a new club at Jefferson High School (JHS) in Alexandria and its mission is simple: to make others happy.

JHS senior Kirby Karpan was introduced to the idea in August during a campus visit to Northwestern University in Chicago.

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“They had a Happiness Club that would do things like bring puppies in during finals, give out free hot chocolate and leave pennies lying heads up around campus,” she explained. “It seemed like a lot of fun.”

Karpan shared the idea with JHS junior Courtney Bitzan. Bitzan loved the idea and the two co-founded the JHS Happiness Club, with the purpose statement: “Dedicated to promoting happiness in our school and our community.”

To form a new club, an application must be filled out and approved by the school, and an adult must agree to serve as the advisor.

The application was approved and Karpan and Bitzan asked JHS orchestra director Brad Lambrecht to serve as the advisor. “He’s the happiest person in the whole school!” Karpan explained of their choice.

They held their first meeting in September. Five students attended.

The club hosted a table at the fall JHS club fair, where clubs share information and sign up new members. Much to their surprise, their table proved to be a popular spot.

“I was blown away by the people in line,” Karpan said. “It was crazy.”

The club now has more than 40 members. Juniors Clayton Forester and Emily Martinson were two of the students who joined.

“I wanted to join an organization that was trying to make the school a more inviting environment,” Forrester said. “I joined because it’s a good opportunity to reach out to other people and get out of your comfort zone,” added Martinson.

The group meets every Thursday during lunch to discuss and plan projects and identify members to lead those projects.

“We always have a dance party the last five minutes of the meeting,” Karpan added with a grin.

They also purchased club T-shirts, which are bright yellow with a smiley face on them.

Following are some of the projects the group has done to spread happiness throughout the school:

Free bubble wrap Friday. As the final bell rang at school one Friday, more than 500 squares of bubble wrap were handed out to students, who popped it on their way out. “They loved it!” Karpan said. “It was a fun way to end the day.”

Hugs and hot cocoa. On the last day of school before Christmas break, members greeted arriving students with free cups of hot chocolate, while the JHS Rainbow Strings played music in the foyer.

Take what you need posters. Members create posters with tear-off words, so students or staff can “take what they need,” such as a smile, courage, strength, a hug, etc.

Self-esteem signs. Signs containing positive messages such as “You are beautiful,” or “You are special” are placed in school bathrooms.

Teacher appreciation. Thank-you notes were written to District 206 teachers during teacher appreciation week.

It’s on us. Change is randomly taped to school vending machines with the message: This one’s on us ~ The Happiness Club.

Quote of the week posters. An uplifting quote is posted.

“I’ve really enjoyed the little things we’ve done so far, like the teacher notes,” said junior member Sam Christenson. “It’s the little things that count.”

So far, these things have been funded by members themselves or with the help of parents.

A parent’s business donated money toward the T-shirts so members could get them at a reduced price, another parent donated the bubble wrap, and another parent’s business donated popcorn that the club hopes to give out at a future free student pop/popcorn event.

“We definitely have used our resources,” Karpan said.

Bitzan explained that she was purchasing supplies for the free hot chocolate day with her own money, with the idea that the club would later reimburse her if they were able to get donations for their cause.

As she was checking out at a local store, she was approached by a representative of MidMinnesota Federal Credit Union who said they wanted to pay for her purchase.

“I couldn’t believe it!” Bitzan said. “It was so perfect that we were buying this to spread happiness, and someone just randomly offered to buy it for us.”

The group is now hoping to expand by spreading happiness into the community.

Some of their ideas include randomly giving out flowers or May Day baskets, visiting a local nursing home to share popcorn and a movie with residents, and just simply spreading happiness to others in little ways.

“But all that takes money, so right now we’re just making plans and hoping that we can get some money to work with,” Bitzan said. “Sometimes it will be as simple as just giving our time.”

A few members recently volunteered at a fundraising event at the Alexandria Senior Center.

“Maybe we will inspire other happiness branches,” said junior member Sam Carlson of their efforts.

So far, the group has received a lot of positive feedback, and members are hopeful they will get the support they need to continue their efforts.

“People say they appreciate what we do,” Bitzan said. “It’s not even that much work, but it makes a big impact on people.”

“It’s been exciting to watch it grow,” Karpan added. “It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211