For their final project in the Participation in Government class, 136 Baker High School seniors teamed up in small groups and chose a charity to support. Teacher Nicole Campbell’s students gathered May 31 for a community service fair in the high school cafeteria to showcase their chosen causes. The group above collected cash donations and personal care items for clients of ARISE, an independent living center that provides resources for people with disabilities.
More than 100 Baker High School students packed into the sweltering cafeteria last Thursday, but it wasn’t for lunchtime. That evening, the 136 seniors in Nicole Campbell’s Participation in Government classes came together to change the world, as Campbell said.
For the past four years, Campbell’s senior PIG classes have split up into groups to fundraise for a charity of their choice. They gather for a community service fair to share their causes with each other, their parents and the public.
Student Jillian Fabrizi said the project is about “putting your best foot forward.”
Fabrizi and her group — which also included Emilie Hoy, Vincent Leone, Kaitlin Sinclair and Alyssa Tucker — chose to support ARISE, an independent living center that provides resources for people with disabilities.
“Last year in health class, a representative [from ARISE] came and talked to us about what it’s like to live with a disability,” she said. “It really spoke to me.”
Fabrizi said she was alarmed to learn about ableism, or discrimination against disabled people, and the incorrect and harmful opinions people can express about those with disabilities.
“Everybody’s human,” she said.
Tucker, who works as a home health aide, said she had personal experience with ARISE. Her client uses the agency’s services.
“She goes to ARISE for her therapy and prescriptions,” Tucker said.
The group held a bake sale and collected donations at the Church of Our Lady of Pompei and St. Peter in Syracuse, which Fabrizi attends. Their goodies sold out in eight minutes, raising $503.
“It was blown out of the water,” Leone said of his group’s initial goal of $200.
Ultimately, the ARISE group raised $675. The donations they collected purchased 88 personal care items — shampoo, towels, detergent — for ARISE clients and $450 in Tractor Supply Company gift cards for ARISE at the Farm. Located on a 77-acre farm in Chittenango, that program provides therapeutic horseback riding and summer activities for people of all ages and abilities.
“I really like their message, and they really appreciated our donations,” said Sinclair.
While the ARISE group was pleasantly surprised by the volume of donations they received, Campbell said the goal is not necessarily to raise the most money for an organization.
“The person who collects $1,200 doesn’t get a higher grade than the person who collects $5,” she said.
Students will earn a grade of either 100 or 0 on the project, Campbell said. What matters most is the effort the kids put forth in supporting their cause.
“I tell them don’t focus on the dollar amount or the number of items,” she said. “Think of the people you helped. … You can look at yourself in the mirror and know you did everything you could.”
Another important aspect of the project, Campbell said, is allowing the students the find their voices so they can stand up for what matters to them.
“We don’t give teenagers enough credit that their voice should be heard and they can make a change,” she said.
Campbell does not assign her students a cause. Instead, she instructs them to choose an organization relating to “something that bothers them, something that affects them personally, something that stirs their emotions.”
For Ryan Hiltbrand and his group, Goodwill was the cause that moved their hearts. They wanted to help the elderly, veterans and people with disabilities. Goodwill sells donated clothing and other items to fund educational and employment initiatives for those populations.
“It gives them an equal and better opportunity in the workforce,” Hiltbrand said.
“When you donate clothes and household goods, 80 percent gets sent back to the programs,” said group member Tim Milewski.
The Goodwill group tapped into their talents to raise money. One member took to busking, playing his guitar in public to attract donations. The group also considered logistics: Collecting cash, they said, was easier than hauling around clothes and other donated items.
“It doesn’t have to be [just] money, but it’s more universal,” said Logan Barrella.
Andrew Streiff, Victor Lamar and Bruce Wolcik chose a cause that’s close to home. They collected school supplies for PEACE, Inc., which has an office right in B’ville. Streiff said students are faced with an “excessively long list” of school supplies at the beginning of the year, which some families cannot afford. In addition, the group collected backpacks, water bottles and other items that kids might need in addition to notebooks and pencils.
“If you want to help these kids to get a good education, please help us,” Streiff said.
The students will continue fundraising and collecting donations even after their community service fair.
“We’ll definitely have more by the end of the school year,” said Lamar.
Lamar said he and his classmates have spoken to school administrators about linking donations to locker cleanup. The group would like to set up donation bins in each school in the district so students can put their leftover supplies — “extra books, extra notebooks, pencils and whatnot,” Lamar said — to a good cause and learn more about PEACE’s work.
“The more people that know about it, the more donations they’re going to get,” Lamar said. “It’s heartwarming.”
While the PIG course teaches the ins and outs of democracy, how the economy works and the branches of government, the community service project provides a much more valuable final lesson for Baker seniors as they head out into the world.
“They can Google how a bill becomes a law,” Campbell said. “The most important thing that I can teach them is to find a cause they identify with and go out and change their world.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.