WILKES-BARRE — Anton Heikari came all the way from Finland to help pre-school kids in Wilkes-Barre enjoy a breakfast of Cheerios, blueberries and milk. Well, OK, that’s not the only reason he came, but on Friday it was one reason.
Heikari joked with tots at Luzerne County Head Start’s Beekman Street Center as they started their day with a morning meal, and insisted he was enjoying himself very much. Back home, in a country that consistently scores among the best in international standardized school tests, he has similarly helped out in kindergarten classes, he said.
On Friday, he and 27 other students from Wyoming Seminary Upper School spent the morning helping out in 14 pre-school classrooms, just one of 25 places where more than 500 students lent a hand as part of Sem’s “All-School Community Day of Service.” Teens from the school, which boasts a hefty contingent of international students, visited senior centers, a Ronald McDonald House, Hillside Farms, and numerous other places performing a wide range of efforts to help. Some activities, including creating care kits and writing letters to soldiers overseas, were done at the school.
At Head Start, Heikari, 17, and Tiffani Baublitz, 15, started by coaxing children ages 3 and 4 to eat their breakfast in Krista Moss’ classroom.
“I like this a lot,” Baublitz smiled as a toddler chatted with her. “I’m here to help out with you guys.”
In Roberto Colin’s bilingual room, Madison Dompkosky, of Mountain Top, played peek-a-boo with Jean Carlos, 3, who initially proved reluctant to eat and completely ignored the blueberries next to his cereal.
“I was excited to come here,” the 16-year-old grinned, adding that she will return in the future as part of her work with Leadership Wilkes-Barre.
Jean Carlos’ reticence waned once he learned adding blueberries to the milk in his cereal turned it purple. Before breakfast was over, he was shoveling berries into the milk and chatting with Dompkosky and Jillayne Gumbs, 15, of Allentown.
“I love it here so much,” Gumbs said with a smile that reflected the claim. “This was my first and second choice” among service options.
Service day is the finale to an annual week of activities intended to launch a new year with lessons in the school motto: “The True, the Beautiful and the Good.”
One would think Heikari would get plenty of that — particularly the beauty — back home in a country famous for northern lights and breathtaking scenery. Finland is frequently ranked among the top 10 “happiest” countries. Yet when asked if he missed his often-cold but always well-regarded nation (lovingly mocked for many laughs in the opening song of Broadway’s “Spamalot”), he was unequivocal.
And back to chatting with children finishing their blueberries and Cheerios in purple milk.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish