Local leaders impressed with student effort; donation drive continues through May 20
By Brandi Makuski
A ninth grade class from Ben Franklin Jr. High has exceeded their initial fundraising goal for the Portage Co. K-9 Unit.
Art Greco’s World of Business class, comprised of 14 ninth graders and one student in the eighth grade, planned the “Raise the Paw” fundraiser as its final class project. Greco gave the class a choice between doing book work or completing a project-based, full-immersion practical business exercise. The students chose a real-world experience — creating a de facto nonprofit organization to raise funds for the sheriff’s K-9 unit — and Saturday’s main event was worth more than 100 points towards their semester grades.
“Knowledge about yourself gives you the power to build confidence; confidence suppresses fear and anxiety, and the sooner we get these kids doing this, you’re going to see a lot more achievement, and personal achievement to begin with, and that’s exactly the premise behind this,” Greco said Saturday.
Students had to overcome their fears for the project by making cold calls to area businesses seeking donations, learn how to track data, count cash drawers and other business-related tasks during the project, including presenting their pitch.
“That was the hardest for me,” said Mackenzie Lavin, 15. “Making that first phone call to see if we could get any media coverage because you never know what someone’s going to say back to you. But once I did it, it got a little easier.”
Lavine and her classmates were responsible for securing donations of a large tent, food and beverages, grills, ice, entertainment, games and prizes for the event. They also had to write a press release announcing their fundraiser event, and invite elected officials from Stevens Point, the villages of Plover and Whiting, as well as the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office — all of whom attended Saturday’s event.
“I had no idea it was going to be this big,” said Devin Hintz, 15. “We’ve got over $2,000 so far, and we haven’t even finished counting.”
The group set a main goal of $1,500; a number they reached by noon on April 30. By 1:30 PM that day, students had begun to discuss reaching their secondary goal of $5,000: a milestone which will force Greco to shave his head.
“The whole day has been a little chaotic,” Greco said. “The students had a bit of a slow start, and I think we had a nine-day window, maybe, but I tell you what, they definitely… a fire was lit and they got moving, and today has been an incredible turnout.”
A little more than 300 area residents attended the fundraiser, to include Mayor Mike Wiza, Sheriff Mike Lukas, Deputy John White and his K-9 partner Lady, as well as Whiting President Paul Stroik. Nathan Shulfer from the Plover Police Dept., SPPD’s Det. Tony Zblewski, as well as several members of the Stevens Point Fire/EMS Dept. also came to support the kids and the cause.
Deputy Dan Wachowiak, partner of K-9 Baco, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, also attended the event with his family. White briefly hugged Wachowiak, asking, “How ya’ doing, brother?”, in what was perhaps the most touching moment of the day.
Sheriff Mike Lukas said the students had begun planning the fundraiser before Baco became ill.
“They really got a lot of people involved here,” Lukas said. “It’s pretty impressive, they put a lot of work into it and got a lot of donations.”
Along with selling food donated by several area businesses, the students held several family activities including a catch-and-release fishing tournament, bean bag toss, face painting and paddle wheel.
Lukas said his office has benefited from fundraisers in the past, but he’s never seen an effort like this one by the Ben Franklin students.
“This is going to help us get another dog, medical costs for a dog; it’s unbelievable the amount of work that they’ve put in to benefiting the Portage County Sheriff’s Office.”
Greco said he doesn’t think the students realize just how big of an effect their fundraiser will have on the community.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that nobody has ever done his before,” Greco said. “This is historic; for the first time in history a group of kids has created an organized fundraiser for the K-9. It’s really something.”
While Saturday’s fundraiser is over, the students will take donations for the cause through May 20.
“We hit our goal; now, they want the next goal, and that’s $5,000 dollars and for me to shave my head, and they have the opportunity to do that, but they’re going to be able to run and take checks until May 20th,” Greco said.
If the World of Business students reach their $5,000 goal, there will be a ceremony at the school to both celebrate and give their teacher a whole new look.
Donations can be sent prior to May 20 to: Ben Franklin Jr. High School, 2000 Polk St., Stevens Point, Wis. 54481. Donors should put “World of Business” or “WOB” in the check’s memo line.