FLINTSTONE, Ga. -- It all started with a letter.
After hearing about the work of Ridgeland High School's Key Club, 10-year-old Malea Casteel wondered why her school couldn't have a similar club of its own.
Key Club, sponsored by Kiwanis International, is the oldest and largest community service organization for high school students, handling such projects as blood and canned food drives.
A similar program, called K-Kids Club, exists for students in elementary schools.
Fourth-grader Malea wrote a letter last year, asking for a K-Kids Club at her school, Chattanooga Valley Elementary. At the same time, Laura Boyle, a senior at Ridgeland High and active in Key Club, was shopping for an idea for her required senior project.
Now Boyle leads the 40 or so students in Chattanooga Valley's club, which organizers say is the first such elementary school club in the Chattanooga area. The second- through fifth-graders in the group participate in school-based service projects at each meeting.
On Wednesday, the group was making Christmas cards for local nursing home residents.
"I like that we get to help people," Malea said. "We get to make people feel better."
And the students are showing that you don't have to be grown up to want to make a difference.
"They're very serious about it," said Chattanooga Valley Principal Heather Culberson. "We never imagined it would go over as well as it has."
Chattanooga Valley students will do some service projects similar to those in the high school's Key Club. But Boyle said most of the work will be done on a smaller scale.
"It's just kind of getting the idea of service in their head," she said.
Rossville Kiwanis Club member Steve Phillips said the organization sponsors service groups at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
"The kids all the way through high school are aching for opportunities like this," he said.
He said 11 Key Clubs operate in Chattanooga-area high schools and students help out at the Ronald McDonald House and help teachers during in-service days, among dozens of other projects.
"It's anything and everything they can think of," Phillips said.
From elementary to high school, Phillips said, the groups are aimed at fostering leadership by instilling the value of helping others.
"We try to teach leadership through service all the way up," he said. "We're hoping as they grow up that's something that will stick with them."