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Published: Thursday, 1/24/2013

7th grader turns assignment on homeless into bigger lesson

Home Depot’s Keith Young, left, and John Smith give Perrysburg Junior High School student Michael Skotynsky a plaque for writing to the store, requesting assistance for Cherry Street Mission. Home Depot’s Keith Young, left, and John Smith give Perrysburg Junior High School student Michael Skotynsky a plaque for writing to the store, requesting assistance for Cherry Street Mission.
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It took Michael Skotynsky one soggy night in a rain-soaked, makeshift shelter to inspire him to help the region’s homeless.

The Perrysburg Junior High School seventh grader slept outdoors in moving boxes for a social-studies assignment on diversity.

The class project was intended to expose students to another culture or give them a glimpse of what it might be like to have a disability or no warm bed.

Michael, 12, turned his experience into an opportunity to help others when his letter to Home Depot requesting help for the homeless resulted in the company’s Tuesday donation of store vouchers and tarps to the Cherry Street Mission.

PHOTO GALLERY: Perrysburg Student Honored For Charity Contribution

Though Jan. 12 approached 60 degrees during the day, Michael said an overnight rainfall made the experience “miserable.”

“I got to sleep a little bit, but once I heard it start raining, it woke me up instantly,” Michael said.

He readjusted his boxes, which he set up on a cement patio outside his Perrysburg home, but in the morning the rain had stained the cardboard dark brown and some water had seeped inside.

The next morning, Michael and his mom talked about what it was like to spend the night as a homeless person might.

“His big concern was that his box was trashed from the rain, and he’s like, ‘What do these people do? Do they spend the whole next day trying to find a box?’” his mother, Lea Skotynsky, said.

Michael said he and his mom came up with the idea to write to someone who might be able to donate protective tarps. Michael wrote a letter to the Home Depot in Rossford. His simple, eight-sentence request asked the store to consider giving tarps to the Cherry Street Mission, a Toledo charity that serves the poor and homeless.

Tuesday, representatives of Home Depot surprised Michael and his class when they presented the mission seven tarps, with a retail price of about $10 each, and $175 in vouchers to buy store

goods. Keith Young, the assistant store manager in Rossford, said his mouth dropped when he read Michael’s letter.

“... (T)o think outside the box like that is awesome,” Mr. Young said of the boy’s efforts.

Mr. Young told the class the donation is an example of how “one letter, one person can make a difference.”

Home Depot representatives also gave Michael a plaque, an award it gives to employees who excel, and a gift card to a video game retailer.

Michael’s parents, Lea and Matt Skotynsky, crouched down in the corner of social studies teacher Bill Hilt’s classroom to keep the donation a secret until the big moment. Michael said the donation was indeed a surprise.

Roz Goodwin, the mission’s director of stewardship services, said the donations will go to good use. Monday night, the mission provided shelter for 250 men and women. “It’s amazing to see a young man of his age develop such an amazing heart of compassion just with a small experience like that,” she said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.

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