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Plant High teens turn 9/11 grief into action

A year after the terrorist attacks, 17-year-old Stephanie Swanz comes up with a way to channel her sadness.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 11, 2002


By the time she went to bed on Sept. 11, Stephanie Swanz was a mess.

That morning one month ago, she and 400 classmates walked in a solemn, rain-soaked tribute on Bayshore Boulevard. That night, she watched a news show about the orphaned babies.

"I was sitting there in tears," said Swanz, 17.

But she didn't click the TV off and try to forget. Instead, the Plant High senior channeled feelings into action.

The next morning, she told best friend and fellow senior Laina Caltagirone about an idea that came to her the night before: Why not start a Club 9-11?

A month later, the club is one of Plant's largest, with 100 members. And it has a lofty goal: a scholarship fund for a yet-unnamed student who lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks.

"We figured (applying for) college was the hardest thing we're going through," said Caltagirone, 17. "We couldn't imagine what it would be like without parents."

Swanz and Caltagirone are founders and co-presidents. Both are honor roll regulars who juggle gobs of extracurricular activities.

Even for them, Club 9-11 has been a challenge.

"It just snowballed," said math teacher Linda Coleman, the club's sponsor.

Two days after discussing the idea, the pair had 350 signatures. Three days after that, they won approval from the school's Inter Club Council.

Now club members are moving ahead with projects.

On Saturday, members will help Tinker Elementary School celebrate its 50th anniversary at MacDill Air Force Base.

On Veterans Day, they plan to bake cookies for veterans.

For Thanksgiving, they'll send thank-you notes to American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The big event will be Feb. 20, assuming the co-presidents get approval from the club's board of directors.

They envision a football game, senior girls vs. junior girls. The boys will do the cheerleading.

At $5 a ticket, they expect to raise a few thousand dollars.

Enough, the students believe, to help a fellow senior buy a computer for college, or pay for a college meal plan, or maybe even cover tuition for a semester or two.

The club is looking for a recipient.

They've written letters to people who they think might help, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

So far, no reply. But the students aren't worried.

"Without a doubt, we'll find somebody," Swanz said.

Already, the club is earning praise.

"It's indicative of the kinds of kids we have," principal Eric Bergholm said. "They're not just here to have fun. They're here thinking of other people."

Anyone interested in helping can call Linda Coleman at 272-3033.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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