Community and Career Class is a Game Changer for Hubbard Student

HUBBARD, Ohio – When Hubbard High School sophomore Isabella Williams walked into her Community and Career Exploration class, she may not have realized everything she would learn.

Through the class, Williams organized the Shoot for Change charity basketball game, which became about more than just a grade or volunteering. In the end, it was about family and the smiles on the faces of the students from both teams when the buzzer sounded.

More than a year ago, Williams had reconnected on social media with her cousin, Christoph Rhoads, who is a student at Potential Development, an autism program serving 240 students from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. She and Rhoads connected through a love of basketball, and then Williams and her mother went to see Rhoads play.

“All the kids had so much heart in the game,” Williams said. “They were just having a good time, which I think a lot of athletes take for granted, like just having a good time playing in the sport.”

Hubbard High School sophomore Isabella Williams, left, and her cousin Christoph Rhoads, a student at Potential Development.

What saddened Williams was that the Potential Development season was not very long. At the time, she mentioned to her athletic director about sending a team over to play them, and while she said he was very supportive, nothing actually happened, until she took the required Community and Career Exploration class starting in August.

“I thought it was just strictly volunteering. I didn’t know we actually learned about money and financial issues and colleges, which I really like about it,” Williams said. 

But it did not take her long to figure out what kind of community service project she really wanted to do. She knew of another charity game held for another purpose, and she wanted to organize one for students from Potential Development.

She let her teacher, Jaclyn Delmonte, know about her idea as the school year began. Delmonte said she thought it was a great idea, but even she did not realize how much work would be involved. While the class requires students to volunteer for 25 hours, she said Williams put in at least 70 hours. Williams stepped up and handled every challenge, Delmonte said.

Williams said she had some help from family, including her aunt and uncle in Nevada, Brian Williams and Cynthia Anderson, the former Youngstown State University president, who was able to give her some advice about organizing a big event. She found a fund through Potential Development to place the money collected so that T-shirts could be printed. She sought donations from businesses and used social media for outreach to obtain food supplies and other donations. She organized a basket raffle and did all the public speaking at the event.

“My whole kitchen table and my living room table were filled with stuff, and part of the garage was full of water and chips,” Williams said, adding more donations showed up at the school on the day of the event. Pizza even sold out at the concession stand.

Hubbard High School student Isabella Williams, left, and teacher Jaclyn Delmonte.

The community and her family rallied around her.

Her little sister played in the game. Her older brother and his girlfriend coached the Hubbard team. Her stepdad was selling admission tickets. Her boyfriend’s mother was selling 50-50 tickets. Her mom was walking around taking pictures. Her grandma, aunt and dad were all there helping out.

Williams said they used the opportunity to take some family pictures, including with her cousin Christoph and his parents, Nick and Kim Rhoads.

People attended the game from both Potential Development and her school, with many offering their help as well.

Williams said she is grateful so many people came out to support her and the event, and she is “beyond grateful” she reconnected with her cousin.

“Out of the whole experience, it was just heartwarming for me, because I got so many thank yous from just parents and people from Potential Development I’ve never met,” Williams said. “Some of the kids from Potential Development found my social media and were texting me and saying thank you. They were so sweet about it.”

Paul Garchar, CEO of Potential Development, said the school was the beneficiary of Williams’ tremendous efforts, and they were just excited to be a part of it.

“That a young person, a sophomore in high school, would think to organize an event to benefit special needs schools is fantastic,” Garchar said.

Right now, 1 in 44 children born will fall on the autism spectrum, according to Garchar. In addition to academics, he said the school encourages students to participate in extracurricular activities, giving them a more well-rounded experience. With three locations in the Youngstown area and serving preschool through 12th-graders, the school organized the basketball program about two years ago. Garchar said 63 students immediately expressed an interest. They divided the students up by age and ability. A Potential Development alumni game is being planned for March.

In addition, the school has a bowling program and will offer track and field in the spring.

From left, Andy Chorey, basketball coach; Katie Petridis, Potential Development High School program coordinator; and Christoph Rhoads, a student at Potential Development, accept a check for $4,150 from Shoot for a Change coordinator Isabella Williams, a sophomore at Hubbard High School.

The Shoot for a Change event Williams organized raised $4,150 for the school. She hopes with the money raised, Potential Development can have more activities for all the students.

“I want all kids to be able to use that money however they need it,” Williams said. “If they want to do another school dance, or add another club or add another sport, just because there are so many opportunities that they can have, and I want to help out.”

Helping out is a major part of the Community and Career Exploration class. Besides Williams’ project, students have created Christmas cards and dropped them off at nursing homes and made tie blankets and dropped them off at animal shelters. One student volunteered on a website that helps teach English to students in Ukraine. Another, touched by the loss of a family member to suicide, raised more than $2,000 by having a dinner for suicide awareness. A Halloween costume drive for needy children was organized. Students have volunteered their skills and time at fire stations, nonprofits and churches.

Ellwood Aluminum is creating a scholarship for senior students involved in the program, according to Delmonte.

Aside from volunteering, students learn about various careers and where their skills might help them in the future.

Williams said through volunteerism she now knows she likes working with young people with autism or Down Syndrome and is considering attending YSU to study special education when she graduates. Before then, she hopes to be able to do the Shoot for Change game again next year, even though she will not be required to for her class.

“It’s a community and career class, and so it’s neat to see how the volunteering can teach you all the skills you need to nail an interview and get a job,” Delmonte said. “We try to tell the kids it’s important to understand what you like and dislike, what your strengths and weaknesses are so you can kind of find where you want to volunteer, which maybe can, in turn, help you when it comes to choosing a career.”

Instead of learning facts or memorizing, students are getting out into the community, learning the skills they will use in the future and asking questions while learning more about themselves. Some students have later gotten jobs at locations where they spent time volunteering for the class.

“It’s a good class,” Delmonte said, noting it started during the COVID pandemic and initially got off to a slow start. “I think everyone should have to take it just because of the skills that you learn and what you can potentially do, like Isabella did. On her resume, that’s going to look absolutely amazing.”

Delmonte said the game was a great event, and she credited Williams with setting the bar high for other students in the future. Additionally, Demonte said Williams gave them a great template if they want to continue to serve Potential Development again.

“The smile on those kids’ faces when they won was great,” Delmonte said. “Since becoming a mom, that just hit home. … It was like 110 to 30 when the clock hit zero. They just jumped out of their chairs, and it was just great – it really was!”

Delmonte admits she shed a tear.

“Everybody gets something out of volunteering,” Williams said. “Whether they get credits for a class, they feel better at the end of the day. Whether it’s volunteering to help a loved one, it’s like everybody can benefit.”

Pictured at top: Hubbard High School sophomore Isabella Williams organized the Shoot for Change charity basketball game to benefit Potential Development.

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