By Dedra Cordle
The sixth grade students in Whitney Linley and Jennie Joseph’s classroom were deep into the teen activism unit when they began to warm up to the idea that they too could make a difference in the world.
They had spent the previous weeks reading and learning about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who survived an assassination attempt and became a powerful voice for childhood education and human rights, Salva Dut, a Sudanese Lost Boy who went on to establish an organization building water wells for South Sudan and a plethora of other real and fictional youths who had made a positive impact in their short lives.
“This can be you,” stated Linley and Joseph to their 25 students at Park Street Intermediate.
It was hard for the preteens at first to wrap their heads around the importance of their voices and their actions, but eventually they came around to the idea.
“They started to believe in themselves,” said Joseph, a gifted intervention specialist.
To further their interest, the teachers challenged them to find a local non-profit organization whose cause spoke to them, write about why their mission matters and present their findings to their peers and make a solid case for it.
The students didn’t mind that it was for a grade, that the presentation would be held before the entire student body, or that at least one of their chosen non-profits would be the school’s de-facto organization that they would rally behind. Maybe they did mind a little bit, but they said what mattered more was that they got to speak about a cause that is making a difference in other people’s lives.
“It’s really cool to be a part of something like this,” said Willa Morrison, who was speaking out about the importance of Pet Pals, a local organization that links a variety of comfort animals with patients undergoing treatment at the Wexner Medical Center.
She said upon learning about the activism project, she knew she wanted to choose a non-profit with a focus on animals.
“I just love them,” said Morrison.
She and was drawn to Pet Pals because of their mission.
“What they do really stood out to me.”
Though she herself has not known anyone who has benefited from animal therapy while they are in the hospital, many students chose organizations whose causes personally touched them.
For Eriyannah James-Moss, she chose a hospice organization for her activism research project because of the care hospice workers showed toward her great-grandmother.
For Alivia Heinberger, she chose The Littlest Heroes as her non-profit because their mission is to support children and their families financially and emotionally as they face cancer.
“My friend Emma was diagnosed with cancer so fighting childhood cancer is important to me,” she said.
For Brooke Jividen, she chose the Breast Cancer Fund of Ohio as her non-profit in memory of her grandmother, Treasa Holland.
“Breast cancer is such a big problem and this organization helps with treatment, food and shelter if needed,” said Jividen.
There were a wide-variety of organizations presented at the event on Jan. 11 – some of the other organizations include The Cat Welfare Association, Green City Blue Lake, Columbus Ice, The National Alliance on Mental Illness and Hazel’s House of Hope, to name a few showcased – and though each student said they hoped theirs was chosen by the school as the cause to rally behind, they would take matters into their own hands regardless of the voted outcome.
“I definitely plan to donate some of my allowance money to this organization,” said Zach Adaments, who chose The Ohio River Foundation as his non-profit. “We need clean waters and I do enjoy fishing.”
Morrison said she also plans to donate either money or her time to Pet Pals.
“It’s nice to know that even the small things we do can make a big difference,” she said.