Never too young to care

From left: Megan Monti, Penny Scheuring, Sandi Nusskern, Amelia Lucas, Abigail Anderson, Julia Nardozzi and Catheryn Behr meet up following the Avalon teachers’ visit to Avonworth Primary Center to observe the makers space used by the Avonworth students to help the community. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

What’s a good age for students to start becoming involved in community service, giving back, making a difference?

For Avonworth Primary Center teacher Maureen Frew, kindergarten through fourth grade is as good a time as any to start developing social awareness.

Frew said that the idea of helping out in their community was student-inspired, starting “…in 2016 when two first graders -- Julia Nardozzi and Amelia Lucas -- asked me if we could start a business of girls who could make items and sell them.”

It also was the girls’ idea to use their first-name initials (including their teacher’s) to create a name for the club, and thus, JAM was formed.

“There are now 33 girls in JAM, an after-school club that meets every Wednesday from 3:30 to 4:30 during the school year. We also meet once in June, July and August, hosting lemonade stands,” Frew said.

And what do the JAM ladies do at their meetings? They make things that they then sell, turning their profits into donations that help out wherever needed in the community.

The girls have made stress balls, silly putty, laser-engraved book covers, do-it-yourself Christmas ornaments, St. Patrick’s Day tee-shirts, 3D printed key chains, Valentine Poppers, and super science buckets.

Frew said that she had invited two Avalon Elementary kindergarten teachers, Abigail Anderson and Sandi Nusskern, to visit the club’s “maker space” -- the official location of club activities -- and the day that they arrived happened to be the same day as a JAM meeting. The teachers had met and started talking with Frew at a maker training session at the Children's Museum.

“We were extremely interested and have wanted to create a maker space of our own here at Avalon for some time,” Anderson said. “She inspired us and wanted us to push a little harder to make it happen. We asked to visit Avonworth Primary to get ideas. The next thing we knew, she was e-mailing to tell us that the girls wanted to raise money to help.”

“I explained to the girls that these teachers wanted to start a maker space in their school,” Frew said. “Club members suggested that we donate the profits of our next activity to Avalon Elementary.”

The girls made and sold Easter eggs filled with silly putty, earning a total profit of $300 that will be used as start-up funding for Avalon.

“We are hoping to use the money donated to begin to create our maker space at Avalon Elementary, of course, with the help and guidance of Mrs. Frew and the girls! Hopefully, we will have our space up and running by next school year,” Anderson said.

Frew mentioned that second grader Addy Burgoyne added to the fund by donating $20 of allowance money she had been saving up. “I have had other girls donate their allowance money. Grace Keller donated $6 to our Hannah Milbert Cause. Grace said, ‘It's only a little bit, but it will make a difference.’”

With no “down time” for the young entrepreneurs, they created shamrock tee shirts for St. Patrick’s Day, raising another $300 that they decided to give to an area senior citizen, selecting Mrs. Fader of Ben Avon Heights, who, at 102, is the community’s “senior senior” citizen. Frew contacted Pam Redman Fader, who discussed the donation with her mother-in-law, who decided that the money should be donated to Meals on Wheels that operates out of St. James Lutheran Church in Emsworth. The donation took place on March 29.

“It’s just such a beautiful experience, teaching the girls how to give of themselves by giving to the community,” Pam said.

In addition to the Avalon and Meals-on-Wheels donations, JAM has helped to fund Blessings in a Backpack, the Ohio Township Volunteer Fire Company, the Hannah Milbert Fund, and Animal Friends, while also purchasing a t-shirt heat press and a 3D printer for their “Creation Station.”

“These are truly selfless girls,” Frew said. “They are an incredible group that are a delight to be with each week. They are strong, passionate, and know they can make a difference in their little part of the world. I'm a lucky teacher!”

Anderson shares that “lucky teacher” sentiment. “We at Avalon are extremely grateful to have a neighboring school district that is willing to share ideas that benefit our children.”