FLINT, MI – Over 1,400 Blueberry Ambassadors squeezed into the Riverfront Banquet Center downtown to be recognized for their random acts of kindness throughout the year. Ambassadors, teachers, mentors, parents and prominent members of the community once again gathered to celebrate their seemingly small accomplishments to improve the lives of others.
The party marked the end of the fifth year for Blueberry Ambassadors, which started after Flint businessman Phil Shaltz had a billboard put up along I-69 that said simply, and confusingly, “I’m Concerned About the Blueberries.” The billboard remained anonymous and unexplained for weeks and it garnered national attention.
Shaltz, now 69, of Fenton Township, eventually admitted that the billboard had nothing to do with actual blueberries, but instead was designed to remind people that we should all be concerned about each other and our problems—both big and small, even as small as a blueberry.
That led to the creation of the Blueberry Ambassador program, in which Genesee County students pledge to perform at least three random acts of kindness. The celebration Friday, May 4, 2018, was the cumulation of this year’s efforts.
This year has been the biggest by far, with 1,600 young people volunteering as Blueberry Ambassadors and online voting to determine the People’s Choice Award garnering more than 56,000 votes from around the world. The first year, just 100 students participated and voting totaled 18,000.
“This is why I do this,” Shaltz said as he pointed to a photograph of his 1-year-old granddaughter, Daisy Shaltz, projected onto the screen at the front of the banquet hall.
“You know what I want for her? I want a better world,” Shaltz said. “We’re in this room to try to spread a little bit of good.… I can’t appreciate enough the work that you kids have done and especially the teachers, the principals, the superintendents, the moms, the dads, the grandparents.”
Lifting a small, squishy blueberry ball into the air, Shaltz continued, “I want you to remember what it means. It means to be kind to people. It means to look at their little blueberries, their little concerns, their little problems and try to do what you can to make my granddaughter’s world a little bit better.”
Two scholarships to the University of Michigan Flint also are awarded through the Blueberry Ambassador program, through funding contributed by Shaltz, Huntington Bank, and UM-Flint. Scholarship recipients this year will be chosen by the classes of Vickie Weiss, a teacher at Grand Blanc Perry Innovation Center, who was awarded the Inspirational Leader Award, Brooke Laine, a fourth-grader at Davison Central Elementary, who was chosen by Shaltz as the Founder’s Award winner. The scholarships are for $6,000 and $12,000, respectively.
The Founder’s Award is given for a Blueberry Moment that epitomizes what it means to be a Blueberry Ambassador.
Brooke and her family had gone to dinner and witnessed a waitress pay for a man who didn’t have the money to buy a soda. In response to this, Brooke asked her father to buy the man a meal, in which he obliged. Not only did they send over a prepaid card for his meal, but Brooke wrapped it in a small note saying, “You are loved.” They watched as the man handed something small to the waitress. Moments later, the waitress returned with a tiny angel fashioned out of a paperclip. “I then began to cry because I felt so happy,” Brooke said in her Blueberry Moment submission.
When given the award, Brooke said, simply, “Thank you.” The award also comes with a $500 donation to Brooke’s school.
Weiss, a teacher for 54 years, gave credit to the students and the work they are doing in the community.
“What a privilege to look out at all you wonderful kids that have been inspired by the Blueberry Ambassador Program … and you will carry it with you forever,” she said. “You will also influence all the people that Mr. Shaltz wanted you to, and so next year, I think I will have to tell them that they need to look for a bigger venue because all of you will have that outreach, and this building won’t hold your influence.”
Woodland Park Academy took home the People’s Choice Award with 13,873 votes, winning $1,000 to use in bettering their community. Coordinator Sarah Doty took the stage with nine students to accept the award.
“We’re a really small school and we were so nervous, but we put everything out there and we’re looking forward to doing some good with our winnings this year,” she said.
More than 20 individual students also took home Blue Ribbon Awards. One student per school district was chosen for a $100 award to be used for their school to do good in the community.