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Paying it forward

June 15, 2011

Pictured, from left, are Lisa McManus, parent helper; Jennifer Meyer, Elk County Catholic High School theology teacher; and ECCHS students Nick Lynch, Cassie Riddle and Alex Coppolo. For their Pay It Forward project, Lynch, Riddle and Coppolo put on a play with students from the St. Marys Catholic Elementary School. Photo by Becky Polaski.

It should come as no surprise to area residents that our local youth can be quite creative, especially when it comes to helping others. Toward the end of the 2010-2011 school year, sophomores from Elk County Catholic High School proved this through the completion of "Pay It Forward" projects.
For the past five years, the projects have been assigned annually to the school's sophomore theology class by Jennifer Meyer, co-facilitator of campus ministry. They involve the students coming up with a project that focuses on doing something nice for someone else and encouraging the recipient(s) of the good deed to "pay it forward" and help someone else in some way. The projects take on a broad scope and there is no requirement as to the number of individuals that each needs to impact.
"[The purpose of the project is] just to give [the students] life lessons on being nice to other people and hoping it's contagious," Meyer said.
She noted that she never knows what to expect regarding the projects students come up with.
"They never run out of stuff to do. They're always involved. I try not to make money a big part of it. I don't want them to always think they have to sell something. I want it to be more acts of kindness, making a difference in kids' lives, that's kind of what I hope for," Meyer said.
Each student or group of students must first come up with an action plan, which must be approved by Meyer.
"An action plan usually entails how do they want to change the world," Meyer said.
Following approval of the action plan, the students then must submit a procedure of at least 10 steps detailing exactly how they hope to complete their chosen project.
"They think all their steps through so they know if it's possible or not possible. Then they have to have a projected conclusion," Meyer said.
Once their project is completed, each student must also write a story of a minimum of three pages explaining their project from start to finish.
"I ask them to try to include pictures so I know they did it," Meyer said.
One of the most in-depth projects this year was undertaken by Nick Lynch, Cassie Riddle and Alex Coppolo. The trio is involved with the school's drama department and decided to coordinate a 40-minute production of "Snow White" featuring fourth and fifth grade students from the Catholic Elementary School. Two performances of the play were held for parents and members of the public.
Riddle noted that she, Lynch and Coppolo decided that the play would make a good Pay It Forward project because they believed it would help encourage younger students to become involved with the drama department.
"They start losing interest at the fifth grade because it's like you're either going to do this or that, and the drama department and music programs are starting to get cut," Riddle said.
Coppolo explained that she came up with the idea for the play after hearing from her mother about a program being held at the St. Marys Catholic Elementary School to encourage the students there to be more rounded.
"We were thinking that a fun activity to do would be a play, because we all loved it so much," Coppolo said.
The trio explained that they hoped helping foster a love of acting in younger students now will hopefully pay off later by encouraging more students to continue to be involved with the drama departments at both area high schools.
"The arts are being cut everywhere and our drama departments from both ECC and SMA are diminishing," Lynch said. "We need to get kids involved in the arts."
"We're really hoping that they'll just take the skills they learned here and put them to better use," Coppolo added. "Help support the arts and everything and show everybody else how much they've learned and how fun acting can be."
Riddle also remarked that hopefully the project will have had enough of an impact on the youngsters that maybe some of them will consider undertaking a similar Pay It Forward project when they are sophomores.
Lynch, Riddle and Coppolo were not the only students who organized a public performance for their Pay It Forward project. Rebecca Glatt, a member of the school's jazz band, organized a special performance and silent auction to raise funds to benefit the Elk County Catholic Music Boosters.
"There was a good turnout. I was really nervous to see the amount of people that would show up," Glatt said.
She noted that she got the idea for the project from her mother, who is a member of the Music Boosters.
"I hope that by me helping the Music Boosters that they will [continue to] help everybody in the band to enjoy their time, and by us (band members) enjoying our time, others will enjoy what we do," Glatt said.
Helping a group was also on the mind of Taylor DaCanal when she selected her Pay It Forward project; however, the group she chose to aid was the residents at the Johnsonburg High Rise. DaCanal organized a bingo for the residents of the facility earlier this spring.
"It was a real simple thing," DaCanal said. "It was 10 games, but it had an Easter and spring theme, so we decorated it with flowers and auctioned off all the flowers and the Easter eggs on the tables and stuff."
DaCanal explained that she came up with the idea after hearing from residents that there was not a lot to do at the facility.
"I talked to people and they said they really needed that there because a lot of people that came can't really get out to go to other bingos and people had done that previously, but they didn't have the money anymore," DaCanal said.
She estimated that around 30 people were in attendance at the event.

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