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Greensburg Salem students use active journalism to improve city

| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 3:05 p.m.
Austin Bachand | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Connor Herrington, 10, Aiden Murtha, 11, Courtney Kaufmann, 11, Logan O’Brien, 10, Kasey Storkel, 12, Molly Thomas, 11 (left to right) make grilled cheese sandwiches for the homeless at food from the Heart at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Food from the Heart provides a free hot lunch for all of the Greensburg community.
Austin Bachand | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Kasey Storkel, 12, talks to a guest at the Food from the Heart event at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Food from the Heart provides a free hot lunch for all of the Greensburg community.

Greensburg Salem School District student Kasey Storkel, 12, helped others while getting a taste of a journalist's life during the district's Young Writers' Camp.

The seventh-grader prepared lunches for the First Evangelical Lutheran Church's Food From the Heart program on South Main Street in Greensburg.

She interviewed church volunteers and prepared a story about her experience for a student publication, “The City Brick.”

Another 44 students, fourth through seventh grade, attended the camp the last two weeks in July.

For her article, Kasey asked church volunteer Alice Jennings why she helps with the food program.

“(She said), and I quote, ‘Everyone should help the community,'” Kasey said.

She has attended the camp before.

“Oh, it's awesome,” Kasey said. “It's my fourth year. I just always loved writing and they have fun things we get to do.”

Camp organizers wanted to teach community service because funding for the summer learning experience came from the nonprofit Greensburg Salem Education Foundation this year, said Ashley Nestor, district elementary education coordinator.

“Because of what they do and what they do for us, we decided the students and Greensburg Salem should give back,” Nestor said.

The students, some wearing gloves or comfortable walking shoes, others carrying trash bags, went to six sites in Greensburg and worked, Nestor said.

They prepared emergency kits for the American Red Cross. They mulched, cleaned up and did preparation work for last week's Summer in the City program in Greensburg, she said.

They stuffed bags for the Westmoreland County Humane Society's Whisker Walk, sorted and organized clothing at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and did clean-up work at St. Clair Park for SummerSounds, the outdoor concert series.

All the while, the students asked questions and took notes. Students spent other days learning about how to ask questions and how to improve writing skills.

“It's about kids who love writing,” Nestor said. “It's for kids who love to write.”

Jessica Zerebnick, an administrative assistant at the humane society, recounted the shelter's history, answered questions and gave nine children a tour. “I picked it because I love animals, and I really want to be a veterinarian when I grow up,” said Gianna Ponterio, 12, a seventh-grader.

Cameron Caretti, 10, a Nicely Elementary student, said the camp opens new vistas.

“You get to keep up with your work in the summer so you don't forget things,” he said. “I like the camp because we get to do a lot of new experiences that people don't get to do.”

Ten students made grilled cheese sandwiches for senior citizens or offered friendly conversation at the Lutheran church.

“I wanted to get the chance to serve the people who come here and get to know why they come here,” said Hannah Messer, a Metzgar Elementary School student.

Sue Boggs, an instructional aide at Hutchinson Elementary School, likes the in-class and out-of-class opportunities the children receive through the camp. She oversaw the children helping at the church.

“The children have to write all through school, in every aspect of their lives, and this helps.” Boggs said. “I think this (volunteering) is a great experience for them.”

Michelle Reynolds, 9, a Nicely student, spent part of her time at the church getting to know Annabelle Adams, who lives in the nearby Troutman's senior citizens complex.

“I think it's really fun,” Michelle said. “They taught us how to ask questions and they also taught us how to write stories and about quotation marks.”

“It teaches them to mingle,” Adams added. “They mingle with other people instead of just at school or in churches. They mingle outside.”

Jennings, the adult church volunteer interviewed by students, said she hopes the message about volunteering stays with the children.

“I hope they see the value. Whether they do or not, how do you know? I hope they do,” she said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or