The service group SMILES, for Service Makes an Individual's Life Extra Special, provided opportunities for Havre de Grace High School students to serve their community for 29 years and served as the model of Maryland's high school service credit requirement law, but the organization quietly folded at the end of the last academic year.
The organization, which hosted a high profile annual community Thanksgiving dinner, as well as a Christmas gift drive and prom for local senior citizens, shut down at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, school officials confirmed.
The community Thanksgiving dinner is still scheduled to take place this year, at the Church of St. Patrick community hall, its venue in recent years. It will be under the auspices of the Thanksgiving Dinner Committee of Community Projects of Havre de Grace Inc.
"It was time," Don Osman, a retired Havre de Grace English teacher and founder of SMILES, said Wednesday. "All things change, and we adapt to changes."
Osman had sponsored the organization, which started with six of his junior English students in 1984, until he retired from teaching in 2005.
Havre de Grace High staffers Valerie Felix, an instructional aide in special education, Elaine Bennett, a media center technician, and Rudolph James, a former supervisor of in-school suspension programs, served as co-sponsors after Osman retired, he said.
Osman, who remained involved as a founder and co-sponsor, said SMILES would not have continued through the 2012-13 school year without their support. He explained that a Havre de Grace High staff member had to be in charge of the group for it to continue as a school activity.
"Fortunately, they were there and we had 29 years," he said of Bennett, Felix and James.
Osman said SMILES had had "a great legacy, and it's been great for the town, good for the kids; things change, unfortunately."
Osman said student participation grew each year, from the six who visited a local nursing home after reading "A Christmas Memory," Truman Capote's short story chronicling his memories of childhood Christmases with extended family members.
The students visited the nursing home for a class assignment, to interview the residents about their Christmas memories.
"It wasn't anything I had planned," Osman said of SMILES' growth. "It was just something that evolved, and that's the beauty of it."
Osman said students continued to visit the nursing home of their own accord, and SMILES expanded over the years as students worked with organizations and institutions in Havre de Grace such as nursing homes, churches and museums.
"Anywhere volunteers were needed, the kids stepped up," he recalled.
An average of 60 to 70 students participated each year, and about 75 to 100 took part in the final year, Osman estimated.