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Video contest shows how much Cheswick girls care for animals

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 11:44 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Colfax Upper Elementary School sixth-graders Anna Yaksich, left, and Sydni Henley won the Pittsburgh Cares video contest with a video they created for Animal Friends at the school in Springdale. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

Two Cheswick sixth-graders are showing they care, having raised thousands of dollars since they were in first grade for Animal Friends.

And with a recent win in a video contest held by Pittsburgh Cares, the girls — Anna Yaksich and Sydni Henley, both 12 — will donate $500 more to the animal rescue organization.

Pittsburgh Cares, a nonprofit affiliate of the HandsOn Network, works to advance volunteerism and widespread civic involvement in the area.

The students at Upper Colfax Elementary in the Allegheny Valley School District have been working on raising money for the animal rescue organization for several years now, with T-shirt sales and other fundraisers.

When Anna was 7, she saw a documentary on puppy mills.

Outraged at the treatment of the animals, she called her friend Sydni, and the girls decided to raise money for the no-kill shelter with a lemonade stand.

“I like to see how we inspire other people,” Anna said.

Sydni agreed with her friend, adding that through the years the girls have inspired teachers and classmates to start their own fundraisers for the charity.

“It's nice to see other people spread their ideas,” Sydni said.

They raised $200 that first year. This year, they have raised $4,000.

By the time they graduate, their goal is to raise $25,000 for Animal Friends.

For the Pittsburgh Cares competition, participants posted videos to YouTube championing their favorite charities.

The winner received the most public support through “likes” on the video site.

Of the 18 submissions, “Anna Cares” won with more than 170 “likes.”

The one-minute video shows pictures of Anna and Sydni through the years, gathering money to help the animals at the shelter.

The video competition, which took place in October, was a first for Pittsburgh Cares. Holly McGraw, director of youth programs at Pittsburgh Cares, said that the non-profit plans to hold another YouTube competition in April.

“We engage youth volunteers in a whole bunch of different ways,” McGraw said. “At home, on site and after-school programs and classrooms. We were looking for another way that youth can give back, where they're advocating for an area they care about.”

McGraw said she was impressed by the number of submissions and the quality of the videos presented in the Western Pennsylvania competition.

“I thought it was so interesting,” she said. “I see the kids in action giving back, but I never saw the skills and how creative they can be.”

Several other videos advocated for homelessness awareness and environmental charities.

The $500 prize from Pittsburgh Cares can either be donated to the charity of the winners' choice, or used for expenses in order to raise more money.

Anna decided to donate her winnings directly to Animal Friends.

The girls say the biggest asset to their fundraising is the community at the elementary school.

“We're really grateful for all of them,” Anna said.

Teachers and their fellow students have stepped up year after year and helped them raise money for their goal.

“I don't know what we'd do without them,” Sydni said.

Anna and Sydni are the daughters of Michele and Brad Yaksich and Ivy and Bob Henley, respectively.

Kate Wilcox is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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