By JEANNIE WOLF
NORTH BALTIMORE — Paws for a Cause, a community service club at North Baltimore High School, has an impressive list of projects on its resume.
Members have gone trick-or-treating for UNICEF, bought Christmas gifts for families in need and collected money to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And come February, residents at Briar Hill Health Care Center will receive some special Valentines, thanks to the club.
Advisor Stefanie Lauer said the organization was something the students had been asking for when she started it with a group of 15 seniors five years ago.
“They were interested in having something that would positively impact the community, since the community does a lot for the school,” she explained.
This year’s club has about 40 members and includes all levels of high school students, while a group was also started for junior high schoolers. Chad Jones is advisor to that club.
“We try to do a lot of projects in town and then in the surrounding communities like Bowling Green and Findlay as well,” Lauer said.
Senior Cristina Morales is president of the group.
“I moved here my freshman year and it was a great way for me to get involved in the school,” she said. “And I love volunteering.”
Secretary Allison Kepling, who is also a senior, has been active in the club for three years.
“I had been hearing all of the different people talk about all of the different activities that were going on, and I felt that I would be very interested in doing things like that,” she said. “And I like to help people as much as I can, so I thought it would be a good thing for me.”
Harley Cole, who serves as vice president, joined Paws for a Cause because he also enjoys volunteering and doing community service work. “And that’s what this club is based around.”
The club welcomes everyone, which has helped membership grow, Lauer said. Word of mouth has also brought in more students.
“We do a lot of them (the activities) on campus here, which the other students see, then they want to be part of it,” she said.
Hannah Madaras, the alcohol, tobacco and other drug counselor, jumped on board in the past two years, added Lauer, “so she brings a lot to the table where they can get involved with other schools even, which is nice.”
The club tries to do a project a month, and ideas come from a variety of places. Lauer herself was a member of a high school Key Club, so Paws For a Cause uses many of those same ideas.
“And then the students have just kind of added ideas every single year,” she said. “The first year our only real big thing we did was angel tree shopping for local families for Christmas, and a Zumba marathon to raise money for a domestic violence shelter. Then every year it seems like we add one or two more projects.”
Cole said this year the group went trick-or-treating for UNICEF and conducted a Pennies for Patients collection to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The penny drive raised over $300.
“We went around the stands at halftime of the boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball games for three minutes collecting spare change,” he said.
The club also sold T-shirts to raise extra money to help fund their projects, Lauer said.
Members also try to visit Briar Hill once or twice a year. They painted pumpkins for the residents earlier this school year, and they’re planning to make a Valentine’s Day craft that they’ll take when they visit the nursing home with the school choir.
“I think we have some years where the projects might be stronger than others,” Lauer said. “Pennies for Patients, in the past, we’ve raised up to $1,000, so it was a smaller year for it. But then when you turn around and look at the T-shirt sales, they were higher than in the past. So it just depends on the year and what people are interested in.”
Kepling said club members are now talking about a hair drive that will be donated to make wigs for people with medical conditions.
“I would really like to see the hair drive because I’ve known people who have been affected by cancer and other diseases who could benefit from a wig,” she said. “You think they not only have to spend money on medical bills, but then a wig on top of that, too, so it could really help them.”
Lauer noted that the club has had a lasting effect on some of its members.
“I’ve had a lot of past students that were in the club that went on to college and joined clubs because of this, so that’s kind of neat, too, because of that whole ripple effect,” she said. “We had a past student come back and tell us all about his Toledo club, and then we helped him fundraise. So it’s kind of neat to see it come full circle.”