A Contest with a Charitable Cause

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Celina Saba

Charity winners Jan Gawin (left) and Summer De La Cruz (right).

By Celina Saba , Staff Writer

For the past 23 years, Sharon Swanson has assigned a research project to her students, requiring them to explore different charitable organizations, conduct interviews with their spokespeople, and write a persuasive essay, justifying why their organization should be selected as this year’s class charity.

“One of the things that I like to do with my students is give them the skills they need, but also give them some world knowledge. So with this, I started realizing how lucky most of the kids here are, how little they know about charities, things like that. So I thought what a perfect opportunity for a research paper,” Swanson said.

The students have the freedom to choose any charity, as long as it fulfills one requirement. 

“There is an evaluating website, Charity Navigator, that shows in a pie chart how much of each dollar goes for the fundraising cause or administrative cause,” Swanson said. “I set the bar at 10%, if more than 10% goes to administration it doesn’t work anyway.” 

Once the papers are turned in, Swanson carefully reads through each application to find the best pick. If, however, the papers are equally convincing, Swanson reads them out loud to the class having the students vote anonymously. 

When the charity is chosen, “I tell the kids, I would like to collect from them, at least whatever they would spend at Starbucks in a week. And then I match it,” Swanson said.

In other words, Swanson will double the price of what students have collectively raised for the chosen charity. 

One of the winners, sophomore Jan Gawin, explained that he chose Fisher House because of his family. 

“Most of my family has been in the military, not in the United States, but Poland, and so I respect veterans and people who voluntarily serve our country,” Gawin said. 

The second chosen charity belonged to Summer De La Cruz, a student in Swanson’s Sophomore English class. 

“I chose The Trevor Project because it’s a very well-known organization, and I knew that it had a good reputation. I also really believe in their mission of helping LGBTQ plus youth in crisis,” De La Cruz said. “I have family members who are part of the community, and I have a lot of friends who are part of the community. So for me, it was something that I really wanted to advocate for.”

Just this year, students raised 300 dollars each for both The Trevor Project and Fisher House.

Year after year, paper after paper, Swanson noticed a pattern in the charities being chosen. 

“As the years go by, I feel that more and more students are connecting with the charities. I’ve had kids research suicide prevention charities, and then they write about how this was something that affected them. I’m reading one about Paws Chicago by a kid who adopted a cat and it changed his life,” Swanson said.

For Swanson and her sophomore class, this isn’t just another English essay; it is a step into the real world. Now, and hopefully for years to come, students will continue to learn the importance of advocating for those in need.