A “Pay It Forward” program at Genoa High School looks to open students’ wallets, hearts and minds to the plights of others.
The three-year-old fundraising program fashioned around the holiday season was introduced by Genoa High School assistant principal Cari Buehler.
This year, the event raised more than $4,500 in cash, gift cards and presents that were given to 17 needy students at the high school prior to Christmas break either through the Ottawa County Holiday Bureau or a private meeting with Buehler to ensure anonymity.
“For some of these kids, these stockings full of gifts were the only Christmas they got,” Buehler said. “I don’t think the kids realized before that there are that many families struggling within the school district. I really wish the high school students could see the result of what they do. When I give them the stockings some of them cry, some are speechless, some are even shocked. The one said, ‘I’ve never had anyone do this for me.’”
All the high school students participate in the five-day event in December, even the recipients, who at the time are unaware of the gifts to come.
Buehler kicked off the program with an assembly aimed at inspiring students for the charitable cause. The gathering included a video designed by staff member Matt Hirt and students Brandon Houle, Patricia Phalin, Marissa Crosby and Haley Plantz.
This year, the video contained a letter from a student who helped raise funds the first year and then found his family life drastically worse less than a year later. The stocking and gifts meant more than he could say, he wrote.
“That’s the purpose of the assembly. I try to make them laugh, cry, be humble and empower them to do something,” Buehler said.
The increased use of social media has distanced many students from personal interaction known in years past, she added. “I really try to spark emotion,” the assistant principal explained.
The remaining four days consist of a slew of fundraising activities concentrated on having fun while raising money for a good cause. Students raised cash by wearing sweatpants, baking and purchasing baked goods and buying tickets to win a multitude of gift cards and prizes.
This year also included a dodgeball tournament where teams earned their way in by raising funds for the entry fee. Those seven teams (consisting of 70 students) and one staff team squared off in competition Jan. 10. The winning team was made up of students Seth Morrison, Jacob Fejes, Nate Moore, Mike Snider, Drew Keenan, Max Reeder, Jay Nino and Tyler Baird.
The goal is to raise enough money to fill the stockings full of goodies, a meat voucher, a Visa gift card and photo album filled with various gasoline, grocery and necessity gift cards to lighten the load during the holiday season, Buehler said.
The FFA organization, which built the fake fireplace where the 17 stockings hung during the fundraisers, this year also provided fleece blankets emblazoned with Comets.
The giving extended beyond the walls of the high school. Riverside Machinery, Brunner Campus Quilter’s Group, Jay’s Body Shop, Genoa Bank and several local families gave donations to the cause.
The response has been especially touching for Buehler. And just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean the need goes away. Extra donations are tucked away to help extremely needy families over the Easter holiday.
If you want to know more about the Pay It Forward program or have a donation, contact Buehler at the high school. The school district number is 419-855-7741.