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Franklin Park students make big difference with small change

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Students at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Park raised almost $5,000 for the Pennies from Heaven Fund during the school's 2013 penny war. In the back row (from left), are founders Jon Perry and Joni Perry; Heidi Kern-Moose, president of the school's Parent Faculty Association; and Principal Jeff Anderchak; in the next row are Ryan Schwartz, Emily Durosko, Cameron McCurdy, Julia Moose, Ryan Cooke, Melina Tripoli and Taylor Cooke. Elizabeth Moose and Allison Schwartz are standing in front. Theo DiBiasi and Ben Mendes are kneeling.

The smallest efforts can make the biggest and brightest difference, as students of Franklin Elementary discovered when they raised almost $5,000 this year for the Pennies From Heaven Fund, a local charity that provides financial support to families so parents can stay with patients at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Kindergartners through fifth-graders took part in a one-week fundraiser in February, said Heidi Kern-Moose, chairwoman for community-service programs with the Franklin Elementary Parent Faculty Association.

This is the second year the students at the North Allegheny School District school had a penny-war fundraiser for the organization. They raised $4,947 this year, which beat last year's total of about $4,700.

“It was just an amazing turnout,” said Kern-Moose, who heard about the charity and thought it was something important, as well as a “new and exciting” fundraising opportunity for the children.

The Pennies From Heaven Fund was founded by Joni and Jon Perry when their son, Trevor, was being treated for acute lymphatic leukemia at age 2 at Children's Hospital. While there, Joni Perry said, they noticed that many children were left alone overnight, whether short-term or long-term patients. At first upset about the idea that parents would leave their child alone, the Perrys soon were informed by staff members that some parents unfortunately could not afford to miss work to stay.

This was how the Pennies From Heaven Fund started, Joni Perry said.

“It's a huge need,” she said. “Especially self-employed people — if they don't work, they don't get paid.”

Trevor, now 15, recovered from his leukemia when he was a toddler.

Joni Perry said she thinks Franklin's donation this year is the largest single donation the organization has received from students — elementary to college level.

“To raise that much money, that is really incredible. They're really charitable,” said Joni Perry, 45, of Marshall Township.

To raise the money, each classroom competed against other classrooms in their grades to bring in the most pennies. But they could sabotage other classrooms in their grade by dropping in silver coins or paper money a rival's jar, which counted as a negative amount of that classroom's total. Every grade had a winning classroom.

Kern-Moose, 45, said that by the middle of the week, organizers were pleasantly surprised to see the collection already had raised about $2,500. She said donations included a $50 bills.

The winning classroom in each grade was able to take a break from the regular school day and watch an in-school movie with treats.

And while Kern-Moose, of Franklin Park, said the children loved the competition, it wasn't all about winning.

Her two daughters agreed.

“My class didn't really care if we won or lost. It was good to have the feeling that we made a difference,” third-grader Elizabeth Moose, 9, said.

Students presented a check to the Perrys the week after the competition during an assembly.

Fifth-grader Julia Moose, 11, said that was the most exciting part for all the students because they didn't know how much they raised.

“We were really excited when we heard the final amount,” Julia said. “I hope someday people will realize this is a really good cause.”

Julia said her teacher, Jen Beierle, kept her classroom motivated.

“Everybody was so pumped up during the entire week,” she said.

Kern-Moose said the great support of Principal Jeff Anderchak and the school's teachers and other staff helped keep the children motivated.

Joni Perry said all the money raised goes to the cause.

“We rely on fundraising and donations. And it's hard for us to make money because we're (all) volunteer,” she said.

Overall, the Pennies From Heaven Fund has raised more than $2 million and has helped more than 40,000 families, Joni Perry said.

Because Kern-Moose's younger daughter will be at Franklin for two more years, she said, she hopes to continue the fundraiser for at least that long. And she said, she hopes it hits the $5,000 mark for a year.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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