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St. James youth in Sewickley say 'YES' to helping others

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
St. James sixth-graders Nathan Cull (left) and Isiah Bauman chat while sharpening pencils inside Karen Scully's classroom during a YES—Youth Empowerment Strategies—Group meeting on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Members of the YES Group perform tasks after school each week to help out teachers, and have conducted fundraisers for various groups and charities since the program began in October.

When St. James School language arts teacher Karen Scully started a program for students to help others in need, she never knew it would hit so close to home.

Earlier this week, the YES — Youth Empowerment Strategies — Group wrapped up a nearly two-week-long fundraiser for school Secretary Marcy Knobloch, whose husband, Ron, recently was placed on a heart transplant list.

He is scheduled for open heart surgery in May to implant a left ventricular assist device, which will help support heart function until he has a transplant. Because health insurance won't cover everything, the family has tried to raise money to help pay medical costs.

YES members sold raffle tickets in early April for a chance to win one of five baskets donated by parents. The money raised will go to the Knoblochs.

“The parents have really stepped forward, knowing it will help someone,” Scully said. “(At the time) they didn't even know it was for Miss Marcy.”

YES began in October with the mission of helping others. Scully said she got the idea from a similar group she led at her former school.

At St. James in Sewickley, the program replaced student council, and currently about 35 students in grades six through eight are involved.

The group meets after school each Wednesday, and members must maintain a C grade average to participate.

Students in the program this school year organized raffles for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and a program in Haiti to empower girls. YES is raising money for St. Anthony School Programs, a Catholic-based school in Franklin Park for children with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.

Scully said the group averages about $400 per raffle and keeps $100 to invest in the next project.

“We give globally and in the community — wherever money is needed,” she said.

But members do more than raise money. They've made about 175 ladder rosaries as gifts for members of St. James' 55 Plus Club, and have been making sleeping mats for the homeless out of plarn — yarn made from cut up plastic bags. Each week, YES students help teachers with tasks such as washing chalkboards and sharpening pencils.

Eighth-grader Victoria Michalenko said after making homeless mats last school year, many students wanted to build off of that experience of helping others.

“We all were really excited about it,” she said of YES. “Not only does it go to charity, but it's a lot of fun in the process.”

Maryrose Ceccarelli, an eighth-grader, said she enjoys spending time with friends while doing something worthwhile.

“It's a cool experience,” she said.

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or

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