Junior starts new service club at Central

Junior Saloni Rao recently started the Red Kettle Club at Brookfield Central to give students an opportunity to join a service group without a minimum hours requirement. The RKC, a branch of the Salvation Army that operates in high schools across the nation, is a relatively young organization, as Rao is the founder of only the seventh club of its type. With a focus on civic responsibility and community bonding, Rao argues that RKC has different things to offer than its competitors.

“I wanted to start a club for high schoolers looking for volunteer opportunities, but with a low time commitment,” Rao announced. “Our club aims to serve the less fortunate of the Milwaukee community, where there is more need, through the programs of the Salvation Army.”

It is this promise of membership without compulsory hours and focus on the most unfortunate rather than just underfunded that makes this new club stand out from others, such as the National Honors Society and Key Club. Advisor Mrs. Aussem does not see these other clubs being obstacles to RKC’s mission, but instead, motivators.

“I really do see Red Kettle becoming a vehicle for the other clubs to use the opportunities that the Red Kettle Club can provide,” she said after explaining how the hours attainted in RKC could transfer to the other service groups. “And I think that this community values and appreciates volunteering and giving back.”

From the club’s early success, this willingness to help is apparent at Central. Rao has only hosted two RKC meetings, but she has already gathered 96 club members and hosted three events. During the holiday season, there are many other opportunities to ring bells and swing kettles in front of local grocery stores and there is a promise of more service projects to come. Even the group’s kick-off party at the downtown pairs good times with good doing, as each attendee is asked to bring a box of snacks or drinks for the food pantry.

“Saloni is so mission-driven,” Aussem remembered. “It was obvious from my first meeting with her that she really wanted to get this club started.”

The idea for this organization first began five months ago, when Salvation Army representatives proposed the idea to the Rao family. Vice-president of RKC, freshman Cameron Rao remembered the day the idea came to life. “We were approached by Joy Cony and Marcy Stutzman from the Salvation Army,” he recalled, “because of our involvement and knowledge on the Army’s services.” At the time, there were only five other RKCs in the United States, but that did not stop the Rao family from planning to start their own by involving the home, school, and community.

“It’s largely a family effort,” Saloni Rao emphasized.

It is also a milestone for the Salvation Army, an organization known for more than just inspiring the well-known holiday tune of “Silver Bells”. Red Kettle Clubs have only been increasing in popularity since they were founded by 16-year-old student Katie Wilkinson in Tempe, Arizona back in 2011, and have spread through seven schools, both middle and high.

The one founded at Brookfield Central is only one of few, but Cameron Rao sees a different future. It took five months of hard work, but for him, the job is not over yet. “We hope our new RKC will inspire other high schools to start their own Red Kettle Clubs,” he stated, “and to get more teenagers involved in The Salvation Army.”