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LOUISVILLE – Tatum Nickell, Carsen Knott and Valerie Knott have always had hearts for helping others.

The three Louisville students turned their generous attitudes into an entire bus worth of valuable items for area residents.

The Lions traveled to the Omaha Open Door Mission May 16 in a school bus filled with hundreds of donated goods. Their SkillsUSA community service project provided food, crayons, pens, toilet paper, stuffed animals, blankets, shampoo and other objects to the charitable organization. Scores of visitors to the Omaha Open Door Mission will be able to use the items to provide basic hygiene and nutrition needs for themselves and their families.

Louisville teacher and SkillsUSA Advisor Jesse Zweep said the three Lions used their talents to make a major difference in the lives of many people. He said local residents could be proud of the way Knott, Knott and Nickell impacted area communities.

“I’m very proud of the girls for their work on this,” Zweep said. “It was great to see how they took on this project and just ran with it. They got the school and community involved and they made sure that everything was organized and done right. They deserve every type of compliment that can be given.”

Carsen Knott said the three Lions were inspired to turn the ignition key on the Stuff the Bus project early in the school year. They learned about the Omaha Open Door Mission and how it helps thousands of people in the region. Omaha Open Door Mission offers 816 shelter beds to homeless men, women and children. It also serves more than 2,100 hot meals each day and provides additional food, clothing and supplies to visitors.

“This was a project that was pretty close to my heart,” Knott said. “I’ve done community service projects the past three years, but this has become something that is really special. I didn’t know where this would all go when we started this, but as we started to see all of the items stack up in the bus I knew it was something that would help a lot of people. It’s been amazing to be a part of.”

“I really liked how we were able to get so many people involved with this,” Valerie Knott said. “It was fun to have things come in stages too. In January we had people bring in blankets and clothes, and every month since then it’s been something different. Now that it’s coming to a close it’s really gratifying to see how much we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s awesome to see how much this will help others.”

The project shifted into a higher gear after members of the Louisville Board of Education and Louisville Public School Foundation learned what Knott, Knott and Nickell were doing. They decided to donate a school bus to give students a place to store their items. The bus also served as a visual motivator to encourage donations to keep coming through the door.

“Our main goal was to fill the bus,” Carsen Knott said. “There’s a lot of room in a bus, so we knew it would be pretty challenging, but it’s completely exceeded all of our expectations. We probably have 200-300 rolls of toilet paper, hundreds of cans of food and all sorts of boxes of things like crayons and shampoo and toothbrushes.

“We kept track of the actual numbers in the beginning, but then we lost count because it was all coming in so fast. It was awesome to see how the school and community responded to this.”

Zweep said the three Lions felt it was important to try to involve everyone at the elementary, middle and high school levels as well. Knott, Knott and Nickell spoke about the project to everyone they saw and came up with a variety of item-raising ideas. Administrators approved their plans for Jeans Day, Hat Day and Pajamas Day to encourage students and staff to donate items for the bus.

“Everyone in the school district was involved with this. That’s what made it even more special,” Zweep said. “I think the girls knew early on that they needed help from the entire school if they were going to fill the bus, and they figured out what their end goal was and how they could reach that goal. They did a great job of getting fellow students involved with this from the very beginning.”

The final items were placed in the bus May 15 and Knott, Knott and Nickell rode to the Omaha Open Door Mission the next day. Staff members there were ecstatic with the amount of materials the Louisville students provided.

Zweep said he believes the project highlighted the type of positive character traits that all three Lions own. He said their honesty, work ethic and moral leadership gave them a chance to follow their hearts and help many people in need.

“What’s neat to see is the fact that these girls followed through on what they said they were going to do,” Zweep said. “They didn’t come up with the idea and then drop it midway through because it was hard. They kept at it and knew they were doing this for the right reasons. They were able to collect so many items that are needed by a lot of people, and that’s something that is really admirable.”

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