Students ‘pay it forward’

While taking classes at the College, most students are required to work with others in a group project or presentation. In these situations, some students are magically able to sync schedules and arrange meeting times, while others are left with reply all e-mails and attachments. But now, one class is taking the notion of working together to a whole new level.

Students of communication studies professor Anntarie Sims have collaborated all semester on a detailed project for their Small Group Communication class. Sims deemed this particular assignment a “Pay-It-Forward” project.

The “Pay It Forward” project was based on the same concept as the 2000 film, in which a social studies teacher gives a young boy the assignment, to “think of something to change the world and put it into action.” But for this class, Sims split students into four groups and assigned them to contribute, in some way, to a worthy organization, charity or community.

“We were looking for a charity in most need of help,” Chris Serge, senior communication studies major, said.

Serge, along with group members and fellow communication studies majors, Alexis Johnson, Gina Colati, Alexis DeBurgos and Kellyn Klapko chose to focus their efforts on Hunterdon Hospice. According to its Web site, the nonprofit organization, located in Flemington, N.J., provides care for patients with progressive and life-limiting diseases along with their families. The cause was close to Johnson’s heart as the former residence of her grandmother.

During their final presentation on Monday, group members explained that care provided is not just medical, but also spiritual and emotional.

For their project, the group aimed to host a benefit concert to raise money for the hospice, but faced the problem of a tight budget. When addressing each group member’s strengths and weaknesses, Johnson was praised for canvassing local businesses and organizations for donations.

“When we started this project, we wanted to make it as big as we could,” Johnson, a communication studies major, said.

Both ShopRite and Wegmans donated different food items for the event, including fruit and sandwich platters and cookies. Dunkin Donuts added a java jolt to the event with six Boxes O’ Joe, and decorations were donated by a Party City. When the benefit concert expanded into a tricky-tray, more businesses donated toys, minor league baseball tickets, small electronics, gift certificates and other miscellaneous items. The students put together 30 gift baskets for prizes. Even the location was acquired free of charge from Johnson’s Flemington church.

“People wanted to help. People wanted to do good things,” Johnson said.

The planning continued and a last minute bake sale had the five in the kitchen baking an assortment of cupcakes and brownies to sell at the concert.

When the big day came on April 4, a large number of attendees were treated to performers Helena and Maria Mehalis, a magician, face painting, prize winning and information about Hunterdon Hospice.

After all the prizes were won and most of the treats sold, the event raised $2,300 for the hospice.

“I was blown away when I walked into that church,” Sims said about her students’ event. “It was amazing what people contributed.”

The other groups in the class were just as ambitious. One organized a clothing drive for the Salvation Army. Setting up in the Brower Student Center from April 6 until April 10, the group collected 300 articles of clothing for the Trenton organization.

“We were a little na’ve before we went,” Courtney Payne, sophomore communication studies major, said. “We didn’t understand the severity of the situation.”

According to Jillian Irizarry, freshman communication studies major, the group also sold lollipops with all proceeds going to the Salvation Army as well. The project encouraged Irizarry to think about community service more often.

“Back at home, I usually give my clothes away, so this further motivates me to help more,” she said.

Yet another group worked alongside Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) to raise money for the annual Relay for Life event. In total, they raised more than $600 for the American Cancer Society with a benefit concert in the Rathskeller featuring student performers. At the actual relay, the group hosted “penny wars,” a game where each team has a jar for donations. Every penny or paper bill counted as positive points while silver coins were deducted. Each team collected change and attempted to foil competitors by throwing the silver coins in their jars. Winners were given gift certificates donated by local restaurants.

Most group members chose to work with CAC because each had a personal experience with a loved one diagnosed with cancer.

The last group of students focused their efforts on assisting soldiers overseas by arranging care packages. The project was inspired by senior communication studies major James Henderson, a veteran of the armed forces. The groups compiled packages with toothbrushes and toothpaste, snacks, drinks and toiletries among other things. Rather than looking for donations only on campus, each group member was responsible for bringing in donations from outside churches, organizations and businesses. After getting organized, the packages were sent overseas to Henderson’s old unit.

Despite the vast differences in each of their projects, the consensus among most students is that the class served to inspire them. While some are looking forward to creating a second annual event, others are looking to get involved with other charitable organizations. The length and depth of the project also provided students with a better sense of teamwork and the importance of equality among group members.

After the final presentation, Sims addressed her students’ accomplishments. “Everyone far exceeded expectations,” she said.

With additional reporting by Randolph Portugal