It’s not just all about academics at Pekin Community High School — students there learn about those who need help and what they can do to make their lives a little easier.
“Our goal is that we are educating students to be contributing members of their communities, which, of course, goes beyond traditional coursework,” said District 303 Superintendent Danielle Owens. “I am extremely proud of our students’ desire and capacity to give back to their community and to those in need.
“There is a level of empathy and giving that you just don’t see everywhere, especially at the high school level.”
Katie Curtis, PCHS Student Council President, 17, senior, of Pekin, has been involved with Blackout for her entire high school career. Blackout is a fundraiser for Easter Seals. Blackout is a Student Council event.
“It’s really eye opening because these kids, they go to school with you and you don’t always know,” said Curtis. “But when they tell their story, you understand their struggle because they don’t make it obvious that they are struggling.
“After I hear their stories, I get to know them. When I see them in the hallway and say ‘hi’ to them, I ask them how they’re doing. I feel like volunteering in high school sets the base for what I want to do after high school. I want to go into the medical field so I can help people. This is just one example of how I can help people.”
Colleen Kahl, social studies teacher and student council advisor, said Blackout is in its eighth year and raised $13,709 this year and $105,000 overall. The students work all summer getting sponsors to pay for the T-shirts, which they sell.
“Easter Seals specializes in helping kids and adults with developmental disabilities, and we have students and adults here who have been impacted by the services of Easter Seals,” said Kahl. “We start the week off with an assembly, and a coordinator with Easter Seals gets us Easter Seals ambassador students who have gone through the program.
“So we had kids here in the school building who are Easter Seals ambassadors, and during the football game, they get to run through the Dragon before the football players and they get to be a part of the reveal of how much was raised. I think it’s just important, because they get the experience of telling their story.”
Kahl said she wants students to recognize that “we are all human, and we have to help each other out. I always tell students that I feel like you never have so little that you don’t have something to give, so even if it’s not monetary, those kids that sit in that theater and listen to those stories and ask those ambassadors questions come up later and say ‘thank you for telling your story.’”
Volley for the Cure
A second fundraiser is Volley for the Cure, put on by the girls’ volleyball team. The proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The fundraiser started 10 years ago, and the students have raised over $100,000. Survivors come to the game and are honored.
Briona Beckham, 16, Pekin, a sophomore, attended St. Joseph Catholic School as a child and learned there of the importance of giving through food collections for the needy.
“I like it a lot,” said Beckham. “It really makes you feel good that you can go and raise a lot of money to help these different charities out.
“It seems like almost everybody has somebody who is suffering from breast cancer or some sort of cancer.”
Volleyball c oach Priscilla Delaere said the many students know firsthand about the devastation caused by cancer. She said she wants the students to realize that, “It’s more than just a sport. Sometimes when you give a little bit of yourself in terms of the fundraising or just your time, that means more to somebody than you winning a volleyball game.”
“My teacher that I had here — the reason that I do it is because of her,” said Delaere. “She had it twice.
“A lot of these girls, their aunts, and their grandmas and moms currently are going through that.”
Statistics show, said Delaere, that one in eight women have cancer in their lifetime. Delaere said the girls are educated about breast cancer, what to watch for in their own bodies. There are 36 students on the volleyball team, said Delaere, so statistics show that possibly four of those students will have breast cancer at some time during their life.
Shots for Diabetes
The PCHS boys’ soccer team’s Shots for Diabetes started five years ago. In 2017, $680 was donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Approximately $3,375 has been donated by the team over the past five years.
“It may not seem like a lot compared to Blackout and Volley for the Cure, but our campaign is sandwiched between these two juggernaut fundraisers,” said Coach Brad Slover. “The goal of the fundraiser is to also bring attention to Type 1 diabetes, which affects several students and faculty members at PCHS; myself included.”
“Hopefully, from this experience and others that are similar, the students are learning that anyone is capable of success no matter what adversities they may encounter in their life. Having diabetes does not define who you are, it just changes the way you live your life, diet, exercise, etc. I want the students to learn teamwork, responsibility, organization skills and what it is to be a good citizen. With any of the community fundraising that PCHS does, we hope the students are being instilled with the value of giving to others and the importance of supporting causes that may or may not directly impact them. Keeping an open mind to the struggles of others and being willing to help in any way possible is what being a community is all about.”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter,com/sharrispekin