(Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Knapp, Edgarton Christian Academy)
The "Pay it Forward" project at Edgarton Christian Academy in Newfield, N.J., looked like an impossible mission for students in the eighth-grade graduating class who took on the challenge of turning $40 stipends into transformational gifts that benefit their community.
Melissa Knapp, the school's administrative assistant and coordinator for the Pay it Forward project, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that when she speaks to students about the project it always makes her cry because she knows that once they find a project that drives them, their passion will help them achieve more than they ever believed was possible.
"We challenge the students to step outside their box and look out into the world to find a need," said Knapp, who is proud of the 16 students in the graduating class who created more than 10 service projects that benefit an array of local charities in their New Jersey community.
Knapp told CP that when she introduced the Pay it Forward project to students in January, they were allowed to embark on the project on their own or with a partner to create a joint venture with the $40 stipend they received from the academy's parent-group's fundraising efforts.
"My enjoyment comes from when I first go into that class and they look shocked because the task appears monumental to them," she said about the challenge.
"We didn't require students to set a specific goal, we just asked them to find something they're passionate about and assured them that their plans would fall into place once they found an organization in need. The goal is for the students to see that one person can make a difference in someone's life," Knapp said about the project. "It's a very emotional thing for me. They took it to heart and found something of meaning to them."
The students' efforts have also been featured on the New Jersey news website NJ.com that mentioned the success achieved by the graduating class, which includes raising $3,600 that will be donated to The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the world. Nicholas Dutra and Corbin Mazur combined their $40 stipends and solicited pet stores for donations for their raffle, which raised funds that will be used to train and send service dogs to the people who need them.
Knapp noted that two eighth-grade boys who recently visited the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home saw a need to collect and provide clothing for the veterans. And two girls in the class teamed up to raise money for a family whose mother is battling breast cancer, by designing beaded bracelets and hosting a raffle where ticket buyers have a chance of winning Vera Bradley designer bags.
Madison Hagerty, who runs a free soccer clinic for kindergarten, first and second-grade students, asked for donations from parents and raised more than $400 to pay for a bench at the Franklin Township Soccer Complex in honor of a young girl who recently died.
Knapp also highlighted the success achieved by Samantha Bevilacqua, who raised $750 that will be donated to Franklin Township's Shadow Equestrian ranch that provides therapeutic riding class for children with special needs. Bevilacqua came up with the idea to raise funds for the program after seeing how the classes have helped her cousin who has Down syndrome.
"Two students raised money to supply welcome bags to children whose parents are attending the Celebrate Recovery program, a biblically-based recovery ministry at Glouster County Community Church in Sewell, N.J.," she said. Other students raised money to buy toiletries for a local shelter, and two students raised money for the Lone Survivor Foundation, an organization that helps wounded soldiers and their families.
Students are wrapping up their projects this month and will soon have the opportunity to present their donations to their selected organizations. Before graduation, the students are required to write an essay about the experience and state whether they believe one person's efforts and actions can make a difference in someone's life. Knapp said the students will also be required to read their essays to faculty and staff as part of their eighth-grade graduation ceremony.