Education

Rotarians Distribute Winter Coats at Harding Elementary

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The principal at Harding Elementary School and members of the Rotary Club of Youngstown say providing coats for the students there means more than just helping keep kids warm.

About two dozen Youngstown Rotary members and volunteers from the Inspiring Minds program were at the school Wednesday morning to distribute coats to some 350 students there. The Rotary club purchased the coats from Operation Warm, a national nonprofit organization.

“It’s important to show the kids out there that there are people who do care,” Frank Kishel, Youngstown Rotary president, said.

“Children do better when they know that someone cares about them and this is a great way to sow that Rotary cares about our students,” Harding Principal Rob Kearns affirmed.

Youngstown Rotary has run Operation Warm at Harding for five years, said Samantha Turner, who runs the club’s initiative with David Stillwagon. The club adopted Harding 20 years ago through the Youngstown City School District’s Adopt-A-School program and operates the Put Kids First mentoring program at the school. The club also has donated playground and other equipment to the school.

“It’s a great thing to be a part of,” said Turner, chief operating officer of American Maintenance Services. “It’s easy to raise money for this cause. People see the need.”

More than half of the money raised comes from the Youngstown club’s members, with the rest coming from friends and others “who want to see good done in the community,” she said.

“It’s important to me to give back to the community,” Dr. Liz Shobel, a Youngstown Rotary member and audiologist with the Centers for Hearing Care. “It’s great seeing the kids who have come who are wearing their coats from last year, knowing that they’re using them and they’re not cold for the winter.”

About 3,000 coats have been handed out over the five years Rotary has held the program at Harding, she added. The club also distributes coats at other sites, including the Boys & Girls Club, Salvation Army and St. Joseph the Provider School, she said.

“There were some kids who didn’t receive coats due to size adjustments,” Stillwagon, CEO of Community Corrections Association Inc. Some students provided sizes in advance that were as much as two sizes too small, he said. Students who didn’t receive coats yesterday will get them later.

Another 15 or so students also transferred into the district from Puerto Rico after the club received the school’s information, he said.

Students were appreciative of the club’s efforts. Rotarian Barbara Brothers, former chairwoman of the English Department at Youngstown State University and dean of the YSU College of Arts and Sciences, pointed to a stack of handwritten letters from first-grade students of Shannon Sefcik.

“Thank you for my new warm coat. I love it! You’re very generous,” one student wrote.

“I like it. I like this coat,” fourth grader Mitchell Hopkins said after receiving his coat yesterday.

Getting a new coat is a big deal for a lot of the students, Kearns said. “It makes sure that all of our kids can go outside for recess,” he said. “Everybody’s warm on the way to school and from school, and everybody’s safe. That’s really important for all of our students.”

Turner, who was born and raised on the North Side, attended Youngstown City schools and lives two blocks away from Harding, is aware of the neighborhood’s needs, she said.

“I know a lot of these kids so this is very fulfilling for me,” she said.

Pictured: Dr. Liz Shobel, a member of Youngstown Rotary, fits Harding Elementary fourth grader Ge’Oneya Burke with a new winter coat.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.