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Mt. Pleasant Area students aid Empty Bowl Project

| Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 9:39 p.m.
Mt. Pleasant Journal
Mt. Pleasant Area High School art teacher Dianne Pyda helps Eric Klejka, 17, form a ceramic bowl over a plastic container Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. Kelly Vernon | Mt. Pleasant Journal
Mt. Pleasant Journal
Larissa Nemchik, 15, adds Mickey Mouse ears as the decorative touch to the ceramic bowl she created Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Kelly Vernon | Mt. Pleasant Journal

Students of Dianne Pyda's Mt. Pleasant Area High School ceramics class have donated hundreds of bowls to the Westmoreland County Empty Bowl Project since its inception in 2007.

Karen Piper spearheaded the project after she underwent a heart transplant.

She said it was her way of giving back to the community.

“When Karen approached me about the project, I thought it was a wonderful way to give back to the community and show off my talented students,” Pyda said.

Piper collects more than 1,000 bowls each year from different organizations and holds an annual event each year to sell the bowls, she said.

The money raised benefits the Westmoreland County Food Bank.

More than $50,000 has been raised to date for the food bank, Piper said.

In addition, she sells the creatively decorated bowls at other events such as the Mt. Pleasant Glass & Ethnic Festival.

At Mt. Pleasant Area, the project is incorporated in the curriculum of the basic, advanced and studio ceramic classes, Pyda said.

It fits nicely into the unit of building with sheets of clay, she added.

To make the bowls, students roll the clay into a slab and form the bowls using a plastic container.

Students are permitted to make bowls of any shape or size, as long as it meets the two-inch height requirement.

The week-long project allows the students to add their own creative flair to each bowl.

Pyda creates an example bowl for each class in order to work along with the students on each step. Her bowls are also donated to the cause.

Pyda donates approximately 120 bowls per year. She plans to continue to participate in the project each year. Each bowl is signed by the students and can find homes all over Westmoreland County.

Students in grades 9-12 have the opportunity to participate in the project, making it possible for them to donate four bowls over the course of their high school years.

Trista Klosky, 16, has created two bowls and is currently working on her fourth item for the project.

She said she creates a different design and shape every year that is both decorative and functional.

She said she remembers making a turtle and rose vine designs in previous years. She plans to create a Tweety Bird and Sylvester theme this year of Warner Bros. Looney Toons fame, she said.

She also plans to add another donation next year before she graduates, she said.

“I like giving back to people and this is a fun way to do it,” Klosky said.

Mt. Pleasant's Ed Lasko, who works as the art department chairman at Hempfield Area High School, said he also added the project to the curriculum for his ceramics classes.

Students in his class must produce one bowl for the project, however, they can receive extra credit for additional items, he said.

Lasko's classes donate between 100-200 bowls each year, depending on how many survive the firing process, he said.

He added that he also invites staff and faculty members at the school to participate in the project.

“We thought it was a worthy endeavor to support,” Lasko said.

When people hear about students making and donating bows, they are very moved, Piper said.

“The donation of the bowls by high school students is the basis of the entire project for us,” Piper said.

The next Empty Bowl fundraiser will be held at March 10, 2013 at St. Bruno's Parish Hall in Greensburg, where bowls can be purchased for $10. A silent auction, Chinese auction and soup will be available.

Kelly Vernon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-547-5722 or at