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Night of a Thousand Jacks was a solo pumpkin-carving event until two years ago, when a high school senior suggested team carvings for groups of 10 or more people.
The concept caught on and led to a surge in donations, said Rick Scalf III, community outreach coordinator for Advocates for Children, the nonprofit organization that puts on the annual fundraiser.
Scalf said he has other examples of the value seniors at Columbus North, Columbus East and Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech high schools bring to his organization when they focus their energy for senior projects.
Representatives of other nonprofit organizations said the same goes for them. That’s why about 30 of them manned booths and participated in the annual Senior Project Opportunity Fair on Aug. 14 at Columbus East High School.
About 350 Columbus East seniors visited the booths in groups spread throughout the day near the school’s main entrance. They questioned nonprofits to get ideas for senior projects or to pitch ideas they already have in mind.
Anne Edds, senior project coordinator for Columbus East, said East and North hold their own opportunity fairs as a way to:
Get seniors to think early about projects that grab their interests.
Stretch their abilities.
Help nonprofits make a difference in their communities.
Senior projects have been a graduation requirement for seniors in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. since 2000, Edds said. She said seniors must choose theirs by Oct. 25 and finish by the end of the school year.
At the East event, nonprofit representatives armed with explanatory literature and project ideas warmly greeted students who stopped by to chat. Some students had no clue what they would do for their projects, while others just needed to fine tune their ideas.
Regardless, the nonprofit representatives were happy to help.
Scalf said Advocates for Children has benefited repeatedly from students’ efforts during senior projects. Sometimes the benefit comes by way of ideas, as in the Night of a Thousand Jacks idea, called the Pumpkin Patch.
But Scalf said the best part about promoting senior projects is that it provides an active, first-hand and energizing way to get young people interested in worthy causes.
“If they get passionate, maybe they go and tell others about it,” Scalf said. “That’s what makes us stronger.”
Advocates for Children provides trained, qualified advocates to serve the best interests of children who have been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect in Bartholomew, Decatur and Jennings counties.
Columbus Indiana Philharmonic also had a booth at the East event, manned by its education coordinator, Vanessa Edwards.
Bethany Harper, a senior who stopped by, was interested in building a washtub upright bass, a stringed musical instrument that she could demonstrate to young students in the organization’s Strings Camp.
Edwards said a lot of high school students learn to play musical instruments for their projects. She said some even teach beginning classes, passing on their knowledge and love of music to the next generation of musicians.
“It promotes a love for music,” Edwads said. “That has real value.”
Linda Brown, a former Rockcreek Elementary School teacher, manned the Love Chapel booth at the East event. She said high school seniors over the years have helped the organization by manning phones or advertising for the food pantry’s side initiatives, like the annual “Love Songs for Love Chapel” event in February.
“Love Songs for Love Chapel” allows people to call a radio station to dedicate a song to a loved one and pledge money to Love Chapel, an arm of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches.
Love Chapel uses funds from the pledges to buy groceries and pay utilities, rent and more for the area’s poor.
East senior Kylee Booher, who stopped to speak with Brown, said she might use her experience in graphic design to develop a cookbook that can be distributed to people in financial need who shop at the food pantry.
She said she envisions the cookbook showing how to cook healthy meals using items available in the pantry.
Brown said that’s a good idea.
“It’s interesting to see how these kids’ talents and interests can line up with the mission of Love Chapel,” Brown said. “It’s helped us a lot over the years to have that help.”
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