FLINT, Michigan—Standing in line among a hundreds of other students from throughout Flint and Genesee County, Khaijona Tyler considered why she is returning as a Blueberry Ambassador for the third year.
“Being a Blueberry Ambassador helps me to become a better person,” said Khaijona, 12, a student a Richfield Public School Academy. “Since being a Blueberry, I’ve been opening the doors for strangers, helping to give out food at local food banks, and even bagging up random people’s groceries in the store when there were no baggers.
“I just try to be helpful when ever I can.”
Khaijona is one of an estimated 1,200 school-aged volunteers participating in the I’m Concerned About the Blueberries program, now in its seventh year. Organizers hosted a kickoff event for the program — which encourages students to perform three random acts of kindness and share their story to inspire others in the community to also do good.
Although only three Blueberry moments are required, committing acts of kindness has become a lifestyle.
“This is my first year of being a Blueberry Ambassador, but I want to be a part of this program for the rest of my life,” said Jeremiah Fobbs, 15, a student at Mott Middle Adult College. “It’s amazing how good you feel just by making others feel good.”
About 1,000 of the students participating in the program gathered on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, at Riverfront Conference Center for the kickoff event which featured pizza, music, dancing and a message about why learning kindness is so important from Phil Shaltz, a downtown Flint businessman and founder of the Blueberry program. Flintside publisher Marjory Raymer, who helps coordinate the Blueberry program, served emcee for the event.
“I’ve never imagined the program growing like this. The Blueberry Ambassador program has taken a life of its own,” said Shaltz, who supplies all Blueberry Ambassadors with T-shirts, wristbands, and Blueberry Cards that encourage those impacted by a Blueberry Ambassador to pay-it-forward.
The Blueberry Ambassador Program started as a pilot program in 2014 with just 100 student ambassadors shortly after Shaltz put up a cryptic billboard on I-69 that read simply, “I’m Concerned About the Blueberries.” It went viral, mostly because no one knew what it meant.
Shaltz eventually went public to say that Blueberries represent being kind — and how doing some of the smallest deeds, such as being sympathetic, can make an important impact. “This is why we call our good deeds, Blueberry Moments,” he said.
“Never underestimate the power of our young people,” Shaltz said. “These people will be the positive force of change for now — and years to come.”
Shaltz said he has been asked to expand the program to different counties and to several states, but keeps it focused on Flint and Genesee County because he wants to continue to make a difference in his own community.
Parents, community members, and volunteers joined in Tuesday’s kickoff celebration.
“This is my first year here, but I’m really here for my fifth-grade daughter. She loves to volunteer and to help people out,” said Clay Church, a local hip-hop and R&B radio host from 93.7. “We wanted to participate last year but we were too late and missed the mark, so I’m glad to have an opportunity to learn more about the program.”
The market coordinator for Walley Children’s home, Denise Zerka, volunteered at the event, helping to distribute T-shirts and materials to the hundreds of Blueberry Ambassadors. “Blueberry Ambassadors are promoting togetherness within Genesee County and a sense of community,” she said.
The Blueberry Ambassadors will celebrate the completion of their commitments in May. Several awards are given out and nearly $20,000 in scholarships to the University of Michigan-Flint are also awarded by Blueberry Ambassadors.
Shaltz said additional teams are still being welcomed to join the 2019-20 class of Blueberry Ambassadors. For more information, go to ImConcernedAboutTheBlueberries.com
or the Blueberry Ambassador Facebook page
. They can also be reached by email at [email protected]