POINT PLEASANT — Random acts of kindness may often go unnoticed but they seldom go by without sacrifice and hard work.
Most students pass by an inconspicuous, small room in the ninth grade hallway at Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School everyday and seldom give it any thought though a group of six eighth graders are constantly thinking about it and what it means to others.
Behind this secret door are piles of clothing, personal grooming items and nonperishable food which this party of six has collected to give to students in need and they do so under a solemn oath of secrecy to never reveal who receives the help.
The group, which refers to itself as “Pay It Forward” started back in October when a class about bullying brought up an idea to help others in their school. It’s not surprising that often kids who are bullied are those without the best clothes or even without enough food to eat. Junior high school can still be a treacherous place for those who are different and those who are going without and no matter how hard a teen tries to hide going without, another teen can see right through it.
Talking about someone getting bullied or seeing someone go without is not a foreign concept for the eighth graders in “Pay It Forward.” They said people in the community would be shocked at how many of their fellow students are struggling in some way or another. For this reason, the “Pay It Forward” group devised a plan to make junior high school a better place for some of their fellow students by brainstorming with PPJ/SHS staff about how to collect items and where to store them. The girls in the group, along with members of the National Junior High School Honor Society, teachers, counselors and administration, contacted churches and other individuals who started to bring in donation items.
“Pay It Forward” then received assistance from the Consumer Science Class to wash the donated clothes with help from special needs students. The group was then given a room formerly used by guidance counselors to store its items. Students at the Mason County Career Center are also building clothing racks for the room. Needless to say, the “Pay It Forward” group does a lot of folding…”tons of folding” as they put it and a lot of organizational work on their own time.
Teacher Deborah Cottrill said it’s a credit to this small group of eighth graders that they took this project on themselves and developed a plan on their own, showing more than kindness but kindness with initiative. She also said the students have organized this “giveaway” to fellow students with both compassion and discretion.
The group works with administration in determining who is in need and then it becomes a covert operation to observe the student to guess on sizes. Once the items are collected, a member of “Pay It Forward” will casually approach the student about what they’ve collected. If the student wishes to accept the items they are placed in a bag and are discreetly placed in their locker. The students are always given the choice to turn down the items but those who accept do so knowing the members of “Pay It Forward” have made a promise to never disclose their secret and as everyone who has ever been a teenager knows, secrets are everything.
Some secrets can even bond those who were once strangers such as when a student who received items actually comes up to hug a member of “Pay It Forward” to thank them. This inspires the group to keep growing their project as does simply seeing those they’ve reached wearing clothes they chose especially for them with the best of intentions.
Right now, “Pay It Forward” is assisting students in grades seven - 12 at PPJ/SHS but it needs help and more donations. For example, they had to throw out a lot of the food they received because it had already expired and there is an ever growing need to keep growing teenagers in clothes.
The heart of “Pay It Forward,” are Darrian Walker, Mattie Shuler, Lindsey Oxyer, Teshia Porter, Erykah Roach and Sydney Crawford. The group says they weren’t all friends before the project started but now they’re bonded for life.
As for that name “Pay It Forward,” it was inspired by the book and movie of the same name. Both the book and movie talk about making a difference in the world one good deed at a time for people who are least expecting it and without expecting payback, other than good karma and good deeds turned loose in the world.
For those wishing to make donations of clothing, shoes, coats, nonperishable food items and other personal items (such as toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, etc.) they can be dropped off at the office of Point Pleasant Junior High School during normal business hours.