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Culver students learn to ‘pay it forward’ in their community

February 23, 2011

Students Caitlynn Brewer (left) Grace Lorenz color pictures with resident Mary Smith (center). PHOTO: JEFF KENNEY

The term, “pay it forward” has been in vogue in recent years, especially following the release of the popular 2000 movie of the same name, though many may not realize that, like many films, “Pay it Forward” was based on a book (in this case by Catherine Ryan Hyde).
Culver Community High School English teacher Luke Biernacki’s freshman students, however, are very much aware. They read the novel, which focuses on inverting the age-old concept of “payback” for wrongs (or rights) done, by instead “paying it forward” – that is, doing good deeds as a way to bring about good in the world without necessarily being the recipient of initial good.
The students were asked to reflect on the book’s themes, but in keeping with the spirit of the book, to actually “pay it forward” in real life. Towards that end, the class headed across School Street recently to spend the morning with residents of Miller’s Merry Manor nursing home, playing games, coloring pictures, talking, and just listening.
“We chose Miller’s because we felt it was the best place in Culver to pay it forward,” explains student Caleb Dehning. “We thought the residents there could use some company.”
Adds Megan Lyczak, “The elderly are important too. We plan(ned) on playing some Wii games with the residents and just talking to them about how their life was when they were our age. It’s truly the simple things that mean the most and give the greatest of pleasure in life.”
Meghan Purtell noted, “The elderly people (at Miller’s) are not as lucky as we are. Some of them have family that doesn’t visit on a regular basis.”
As many Culver area youth have demonstrated to this community in recent years, Biernacki’s students are aware of many adults’ perceptions of modern teenagers. They’ve embraced the concepts put forth in “Pay it Forward,” and hope projects like this one will dispel some negative images.
“A major misconception adults have about teenagers,” points out Donald Clark, “is...we are always about ourselves and don’t think about anyone (else). As a teenager and ‘paying it forward’ to someone, I think we can prove that we don’t have the cocky, non-caring attitude that so many adults believe we have.”
In fact, the majority of class members pinpointed selfishness as the primary misperception adults have of them. Students, however, say they share the same dilemna adults face: how best to help those in need.
Says Lyczak, “If anything, we just don’t know how to help. There’s no sense in stereotyping us for that.”
Kayla Shafer says negative adult images of teens could be altered “if we started to ‘pay it forward’...then they would see that we can do many great things to change the world.”
For her part, student Caitlynn Brewer hopes “paying it forward,” in its own small way, can make big changes. “If people actually go through with it,” she says, “it could make the world a better place to live.”

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