Celebrating service

St. George Elementary School revamps annual fundraiser to fulfill call to serve.

Do unto others: Top row, from left : Hugh Nungesser, David Szczepanski, Jenna Strain and Dan Markowski. Middle row: Ava Boyle, Rylee Sundermeier and Peyton Branish. Bottom row: Joseph Cahill, Xavier Beck and Alexandria Przybyszewski.

By Melissa Komar

Dan Markowski still remembers participating in the St. George Elementary School Walk-A-Thon as a student in the 1980s.

“We used to go Center City and we met around 5th and Market,” Markowski said, “and you had to get pledges and people would sponsor the amount of miles you walked. It was a five-mile walk altogether. You went there and wore your school shirts. The principal and pastor was there. And you did the five-mile walk around Center City.”

For the past 15 years, he’s served as the principal of his alma mater, and the annual fundraiser has remained a staple at the school, with some changes made within the last 10 years.

The walk migrated to Port Richmond, and incentives such as extra recess time and Hershey Park passes were created for students who raise the most money.

The goal has always remained the same: raising money to directly benefit the school.

Outfitting classrooms with Apple TVs, purchasing religious books — they’re not covered by state funds — and building first-and second-grade classrooms were just a few of the projects the Walk-A-Thon funded.

“Whether it be painting the classrooms or teachers’ needs,” Markowski said, “any basic need that helps develop our school, maybe it’s physically, curriculum-based or aesthetically, is met. The money goes directly back in the school. It directly benefits the students and the teachers in the classroom.”

While the funds generated by the event have remained consistent over the past decade — an average of $15,00 each year — the walk route itself shrunk and became more of a symbolic “thank you,” and the logistics of herding hundreds of children down busy city blocks became less appealing.

With another Walk-A-Thon on the way, talks of revamping the fundraiser intensified during the summer.

“Instead of kids just collecting donations and saying, ‘Oh, it’s in support of my school,’ we’re having every class do some type of service project,” Markowski explained. “The main focus is we teach the students there are some things in life that you’re going to do without some kind of payment. While we’re bringing money for the school, we’re also going to benefit the community in some way.”

And so, this year, the Walk-A-Thon will be put to rest, and in its place, students will participate in the St. George Serve-A-Thon.

Students in prekindergarten, first grade and second grade will compile care packages for patients and their families at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The inspiration came from one of their own.

Second-grade student Philomena Stendardo was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer in September.

“With Philomena and everything she has been through and being at CHOP, that was a major project we wanted to give back to,” Markowski said. “We’ve been directly affected by what the Stendardos are going through, and this whole year has been such an eye-opener as to what’s really important in life. Showing your faith came to the forefront.”

Items will be purchased with funds raised from the Serve-A-Thon or donated by students and families.

Once the packages are finished, students and parents will present them to the hospital so students can see their work in action.

While the service projects aren’t faith-based, it teaches the students about putting their faith into action by serving the community, Markowski added.

Second-grade student Joey Cahill enjoyed the Walk-A-Thon because it was “good exercise,” but he wants to make other people happy.

“We’re collecting money and we’re going to spend some of it on teddy bears and give them to CHOP,” Joey said, “because people are really sick at CHOP and it will make them feel better.”

Joey’s teacher, Jenna Strain, attended St. George and remembers participating in the Walk-A-Thon.

“It was always so much fun and you would go to family parties and collect money and we would all gather in the schoolyard to announce the standings,” she said. “The change this year is great. It’s kids helping kids, which is great. And money brought in directly benefits the school.”

Strain also talked about the direct connection to CHOP.

“We chose to make care packages for CHOP because that cause is very near and dear to our hearts this year,” she said. “Philomena was diagnosed with cancer and it definitely hit us hard. We want to try to give back as much as we can to a foundation like that.”

Kindergarten and third grade will participate in the American Heart Association’s “Jump Rope for Heart” Challenge. Each donation will equal the number of jumps students will be asked to complete, and donations will be made to the American Heart Association.

AHA visited the school in the fall and gave a presentation about healthy lifestyles.

Third-grade student Madison Forbes was one of the students who watched the presentation and is excited to raise money to help others.

“We learned about foods that slow down your heart or speed it up, and we saw a video of a kid that has a heart problem,” Madison said. “It’s important to make donations so there’s enough money to cure heart diseases.”
The fourth- through eighth-grade students will participate in Citizens Bank Park’s “Red Goes Green” recycling initiative.

Students will go to the ballpark on Thursday, April 27, and collect recyclables during the first seven innings.

Spending the day at a Phillies Game was an easy sell to the older children.

Seventh-grade student David Szczepanski has participated in the Walk-A-Thon since kindergarten and is excited about the changes.

“I am a Phillies fan myself,” David said, “but I’m most interested in the community getting help. We want to be able to react more to the community. For the Walk-A-Thon, we were raising money for the school, but we weren’t really giving back. Helping the community is a great thing and everybody should do it.”

Because classrooms will work together on the services projects, incentives for high-earning classrooms have been eliminated.

“We didn’t want it to be a competition between grades,” Markowski said. “The focus is not on who are you trying to beat, but how are you working together for a common cause.”

The outside community can also get involved in the fundraiser. Anyone can sponsor a student by pledging money, but sharing the message of serving is what the school hopes to achieve, according to Markowski.

“It’s so easy for us to hear about the negative things,” he said. “You can go on Facebook and people are complaining about everything. We need to celebrate the positive things our kids are doing in the community, and we need to share that.”

Ultimately, the goal is having students practice what the school preaches.

“We want the kids to know there are times when you do things for other people without a tangible return,” Markowski said, “but just the satisfaction of helping other people. It’s important to put your faith in action.

A portion of proceeds from the Serve-A-Thon will go towards the service projects. Students will participate in the Serve-A-Thon for the entire month of April. For details, visit the Saint George Catholic Elementary School on Facebook.