A class project in The University of Akron’s distance learning program has shown students just how much education can impact the world around them, leading to a $2,000 grant for the Akron Rotary Camp for children with special needs.
The funds will help the camp make improvements to its sensory room, including beanbag chairs, a replacement light projector, a balance board and a contoured relaxation chair, among other items. As part of the Pay It Forward project series, students of visiting English lecturer Lauren Garcia-DuPlain produced videos for local nonprofits expressing their funding needs, and the three finalists competed for the grants via online voting at Akronist.com (watch the finalists’ videos here). The winning team hails from Coventry High School.
“The Pay it Forward project gives students an opportunity to take their classroom learning to a professional level – in this case, students see how research, observation, interviewing and other writing skills come together to persuade an authentic audience to take action,” said Garcia-DuPlain. All in all, 52 English Composition II students helped advocate for funds for local nonprofits, and the three organizations featured in the online poll were Mobile Meals, Akron Rotary Camp and RePlay for Kids.
Mobile Meals and RePlay for Kids will each receive $500 grants.
“Working with community partners raises the stakes,” she said. “When we volunteered at the camp, the counselors and campers were so excited to hear we were trying to earn them a $2,000 grant. After they volunteered, my writing students walked away knowing that this project was about real people, not just about a grade.”
“It’s a great honor to work with these high school students who are so talented,” said Dan Reynolds, director of endless possibilities for the Akron Rotary Camp. “We have so many friends and fans out there who voted for us. It was so well done and a professional video that we can use in multiple ways.”
Kaiyla Capien, a Coventry High School post-secondary student and a member of the winning project team, said this experience has afforded her the opportunity to leave her comfort zone of the classroom, and this was “100 times better” than simply putting together a research paper. “There was one little boy that I spent a lot of the day with and towards the end, I didn’t want to leave him,” said Capien. “He was so cute and it was amazing to see that even with his disabilities and not being able to communicate, he was still having the time of his life. These kids barely know us, yet they make connections like no other. Looking past their disabilities, they still have fun, they are still kids. That is what touched my heart.”
“It was amazing,” said Kelsey Meadows, another project member from the Coventry team. “I will never forget this experience.” She said the volunteering element really opened her eyes to the needs of the young area campers.
Julia McGonigal, another Coventry student who helped produce the Rotary Camp video, said that as a distance learning student, she didn’t expect this much hands-on community-focused learning. “I am most proud that we got to help such a great nonprofit organization,” she said. “I will never forget this project. It has shown me that even though I’m just a teenager, I can make a difference.”
Student Daniel Mitchell, who lent his filming and production skills to the project, said the group first worked with the children at the camp and then discussed how to best advocate for the organization and share its story with the public. “It’s pretty cool what they do, and kind of neat to see what we’re working on actually benefitting them.”
The students mobilized family members, friends, high school administrators and even elected officials to take note of the needs of local nonprofit organizations, said Garcia-DuPlain. “The Pay it Forward project gives students a voice. It is also a chance for the community to see the potential coming out of The University of Akron. These students are only freshman. If they keep this up…I can only imagine what they’ll accomplish in the future.”
Garcia-DuPlain uses this unique community-focused approach with a number of her students, which yields direct benefits to the Akron area and a crop of socially conscious young people.
She added: “I’ve even had a number of students say they plan to volunteer for their organizations again. When students realize they can have an impact on the world around them – when they are engaged even after the semester ends – that’s a victory we don’t see often enough in education.”
Akron Rotary Camp, which runs from June through August, along with respite weekends offered year-round, is always seeking donations and volunteers, said Reynolds. “We’re in need of different program supplies. If they contact camp, they can help with the wish list: from tables and chairs, to arts and craft supplies. We’re always looking for a variety of things to make our camp better.”
For information, visit www.akronymca.org/RotaryCamp or call (330) 644-4512.