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At-risk school turns out thousands of annual Christmas wreaths

November 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Some at-risk boys in the Inland Empire are getting into the holiday spirit. They're showing off their creative side by making holiday wreaths.

Thanksgiving is next week, but Christmas is already on the minds of the students at Boys Republic. The school for disadvantaged youth is bursting with activity and greenery for its annual Christmas wreath fundraiser.

"I've never been in something like this, it's really cool," said Shaquille, 17, a Boys Republic student. "When I tell my mom she's probably going to be all happy, so I guess I'll make her proud doing this."

Shaquille came to the group home two and a half months ago after a brush with the law. Now he is helping to produce the estimated 55,000 wreaths that will soon decorate homes, offices and shops from coast to coast.

The fundraiser got its start 88 years ago by founder Margaret Fowler.

"It started as a craft project from her with the boys, expanded into a much larger fundraising effort, which has helped sustain the school and the treatment program," said Boys Republic Executive Director Chris Burns.

The annual wreath campaign helps the non-profit school to pay for student rehabilitation, education and vocational training.

Erik, 17, arrived five months ago after stealing a car. Now he is getting a second chance and learning a job skill.

"We also get a 'certificate of warehouse,' so it will help us out when we get out of here," said Erik.

For the next three weeks, students will turn out 3,000 wreaths a day, and it will be up to them to keep the assembly line moving and orders filled.

"It's a lot of teamwork, because me and my partner, he is passing out the cedar and I am sweeping it up and making sure he gets more," said Shaquille. "So it's a lot of teamwork to make sure the whole program stays rolling right."

Boxing the wreaths up is the last step in the process, then they're shipped out all across the country. But the first 200 wreaths will go to the boys' families.

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