A unique and far-reaching service project grew from deep in the Chilean mountains to the chemistry labs of two high schools in Killeen and finally to the downtown streets.
A week before Thanksgiving, a mixture of Ellison and Shoemaker high school students joined their teachers to deliver handmade soap to the Friends in Crisis shelter in Killeen.
The two groups met a half dozen or so times during the semester to work out the most effective recipe using recycled cooking oils to craft the soap for donation.
The Shoemaker Science National Honor Society and Ellison Femineers Skills USA combined their efforts and conducted additional hygiene product drives to add to the donation. Part of their collection is benefiting the Fort Hood Fisher House.
The idea began with chemistry teachers Charlie Gipson of Ellison and Ximena Barbosa of Shoemaker when they participated last summer instructing teachers in the South American country of Chile.
The Killeen ISD teachers met colleagues familiar with soap making and found out about efforts in connection with International Hand Washing Day.
Several schools, including those in Chile, Peru, Spain and Columbia are engaged in the centuries-old tradition making soap from organic material.
Locally, the teachers said they appreciated the chance to give students opportunities to engage in scientific discovery as they worked with various ingredients in changing weather conditions. They also praised students for embracing community service.
“We took reused cooking oil to make soap,” said Shoemaker junior Jason Martin, explaining that the process was more difficult than he expected.
“Today, we get to give away the soap with hygiene products to someone who needs it. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because we made something useful to help someone else.”
Summarizing the project, Barbosa said it began with research into saponification processes. Early efforts mixing lye and different oils resulted in a product that was too liquified. Students and teachers adjusted their efforts.
“We worked as a big group and as individual groups,” Gibson said. “We learned that our plans don’t always work out the first time. It’s a science and an art.”
“Our students learned a way they can contribute to the community,” he said. “We were able to serve others and find worthy programs to assist.”
The students’ handmade soap and hygiene products benefited the Friends in Crisis Shelter at 412 East Sprott Street in Killeen and the Fort Hood Fisher House, a guest house for military families receiving medical treatment.