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Student turns initiative into hope
A Dayspring Academy fifth-grader gets an idea and runs with it. Her work will be felt half a world away.
By MICHELE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 19, 2007
Dayspring Academy fifth-grader Lauren Mariano, 10, worked with her teacher, Katie Otto, to turn bags of unwanted Halloween candy into $120 for Otto's "Nickels for Nicaragua" program. Other donations brought the total to more than $800.
[David Degner | Times]
Who knows how far an idea can spread? That's why fifth-grade teacher Katie Otto always includes an outreach program in her yearly lesson plans at Dayspring Academy. A couple of years ago she trained for, and then ran, a marathon so she and her students could collect pledges for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Then there were the "Boxes of Hope" for Metropolitan Ministriesto help feed the hungry.
Her latest outreach program, dubbed "Nickels for Nicaragua," came about after Otto completed three missionary trips in two years to the Central American nation with the Christian missionary group Mision Hispana.
She was forever changed by the extreme poverty she witnessed.
"These are the poorest of the poor in the southern hemisphere," said Otto, whose mission work included helping at a local orphanage, praying with the kids there, putting on drama performances, and handing out rice and beans to people in local villages.
"We have so much here," Otto said.
That realization made her want to start something here that could help there.
That's how the Nickels for Nicaragua classroom fundraiser started. Otto advertised on a poster board by displaying photographs from her recent trips. She then asked kids in her fifth-grade classroom to turn in their extra change.
The money, she told them, would help buy animals - cows, chickens, goats - for poor families. It also would buy school supplies, school uniforms for the children, and food for families and those living in the orphanage.
That's when 10-year-old Lauren Mariano stepped in, said Otto, "with no prompting from me."
Lauren actually had her sights set on buying a Webkin when she first saw the flier from her orthodontist, Dr. Myron Graff. As he does every year, Graff was offering $1 per pound to all patients who turned in Halloween candy. Graff then promised to donate the unwanted candy to the Ronald McDonald House in St. Petersburg.
Lauren, who got her braces on about four months ago, was all for turning over the candy for cash so she could buy the trendy toy.
"But then my mom said, 'Why don't you give it to Nicaragua?'"
Lauren's candy only weighed in at about 3 pounds.
"I thought if only I did it, I would only get, like, $3 for Nicaragua," said Lauren. "So I thought if I asked the whole school, I could get more."
Lauren posed the idea to her teacher, and pretty soon she was pleading her case on the morning announcements. She passed out her own fliers asking fellow students to pitch in and went from classroom to classroom each day to make collections.
The candy was heaped up in bags in the front of Otto's classroom until it was time to turn it in - all 118 pounds worth.
Graff pitched in an extra couple of bucks to round it up to $120. Students and faculty members throughout the school also have chipped in their change, bringing the total to more than $800, said Otto, who plans to close out the fundraiser this week.
"Live out Loud" is this year's character theme at Dayspring Academy, Otto said.
"The idea is to get the focus off yourself," Otto said. "To live your life in a positive way so people take notice and follow your example. That's just what Lauren's been doing."
- Dec. 31 is the deadline for schools to enter the national level "Fuel Your Imagination" creative writing contest. Students should write a short creative story, maximum of 250 words, on how eating a healthy breakfast will help them be their best and achieve their dreams. The three stories judged to be the best will be professionally illustrated and displayed on the official Fuel Your Imagination Web site. For information about the local and national level contests or to download entry forms, www.schoolbreakfast.org.
- The Pasco Education Foundation Inc. is accepting online applications for its Scholarship Opportunities for Graduating Seniors from Pasco County Public Schools now through 11:59 p.m. Jan. 31. Seniors are encouraged to complete an online application during the open application period by visiting www.pascoeducationfoundation.org.
Last year, more than 800 students submitted online applications to compete for more than 58 scholarship opportunities. This year, the foundation anticipates providing more than $70,000 in scholarship awards.