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Propel McKeesport youngsters showcase talents to benefit food pantry

| Friday, May 9, 2014, 3:56 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Helping 'Bring It' for a food drive competition at the 'What Propels You?' event Thursday night at Propel McKeesport are, from left, Megan Bower of AmeriCorps, fourth-grader Jade Robinson, Sonshine Community Ministries director Terry Ruccio, eighth-grader Jamall Jefferson and Propel McKeesport principal Lauren DiMartino.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Students had the opportunity to guide their parents through a gallery of various art works at Propel McKeesport. At left sixth-grader Virginia Reynolds and her mother Stephanie Reynolds of McKeesport examine painted balloons while classmate Zoe Gibson guides parents Gilda Aparicio-Taylor and Charles Taylor of Duquesne past works done by younger Propel students.

Propel McKeesport youngsters had the chance on Thursday to tell the world what motivates them, while helping to support a McKeesport food pantry.

“What propels me is to sing,” Sirinity Moorefield told classmates after her rendition of Ly'Asia's “Dream.”

“Math propels me,” Jade Robinson said. “I had 100 percent in a test in December.”

Principal Lauren DiMartino said it was a preparatory test for the fourth-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math exam.

Students showed their parents art, read poetry, sang and danced at a “What Propels You?” community show, benefiting the Sonshine Community Ministries food bank.

“This event really is a small step in what we want to do to get more involved in the McKeesport community,” said DiMartino, who was named principal in January.

“It is fun,” eighth-grader Jamall Jefferson said. “We get to set up and show entertainment to others.”

It was hosted by Propel and the Pittsburgh office of AmeriCorps KEYS (Knowledge to Empower Youth to Succeed).

“KEYS is a countywide organization which distributes members to different schools to serve as mentors and tutors,” said KEYS service member Edward King-Smith, who attended the program with fellow staffers Megan Bower and Jennifer Stover.

“(KEYS members) serve in schools and organizations throughout (Allegheny) County, including after-school programs and youth mentoring,” King-Smith said. “We've been involved at Propel McKeesport for eight years.”

Sonshine Community Ministries food bank is located at the old Concordia Evangelical Lutheran Church along Evans Street in McKeesport. Food bank coordinator Judy Kunes said her organization serves meals to anyone in the community who needs it.

“The eighth-grade classes have helped us at our food bank once a month for the last three years,” Sonshine director Terry Ruccio said.

“Usually we have 85-100 clients,” Kunes said.

Sonshine programs include a clothing bank, Monday meals, Tuesday tutorials and a 12-step program, and food bank distribution on Fridays. Kunes said 240 families are served by the food bank monthly.

Ruccio said other Propel students will be involved in a KidZone Extreme summer camp for second- through fifth-graders hosted by Berean Baptist Youth Group at Laurel Hill State Park. This year's camp is scheduled for June 22-26 and the cost is $40. Details are available by calling Ruccio at 412-672-6711 or emailing

Students from kindergarten through eighth grade helped Sonshine in a contest tied in to “What Propels You?”

“Part of the promotion has been to encourage the students to come and bring food,” King-Smith said.

The admission for Thursday's event was $1 or a nonperishable food item. Winners in the food drive as well as a raffle were announced at the end of the two-hour program.

Propel McKeesport, the second school in the network of Propel charter schools in and around Pittsburgh, is near the end of its 10th year. Only Propel Homestead (2003) is older.

“I heard of the great reputation of Propel,” said DiMartino, who came to McKeesport from the nation's capital.

In March 2010, the McKeesport facility was named the single top performing elementary school by a nationwide consortium of charter schools.

Earlier this week, Propel held a belated 10th anniversary celebration for its organization at Propel Braddock Hills High School.

“We are so grateful to the families, communities and individuals that have made Propel's first 10 years such a success,” said Jeremy Resnick, executive director of Propel Schools Foundation.

At Propel McKeesport Thursday, JaQunn Moore opened the entertainment with an original “What Propels Me?” poem. After Sirinity's song, Kasan Flowers danced to “Kids Bop Party Rock Anthem,” Zoe Gibson read an acrostic poem with the letters “m, u, s, i, c” and Destiny Jenkins sang Keke Palmer's “Stand Out.”

Teshiana Smith-Nichols offered an original poem, “I Refuse,” then sang Beyonce's “Pretty Hurts.”

Da'Quaja Cousar, Quinn Venay and Tamia Law capped the show with songs “Who You Are” by Jessie J and “Titanium” by David Guetta and Sia.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967.

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