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Published: Wednesday, 12/13/2006

Maumee students 'Interact' to ease worldwide poverty

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Clockwise from bottom left, Michelle Erford, Allison Smith, Annie Adams, Liz Haubert, Katie Hoepfl, and Ariel Cheung go over sign-up sheets before an Interact meeting in Maumee. Clockwise from bottom left, Michelle Erford, Allison Smith, Annie Adams, Liz Haubert, Katie Hoepfl, and Ariel Cheung go over sign-up sheets before an Interact meeting in Maumee.
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Ariel Cheung said she wanted two llamas, a goat, and maybe a flock of sheep.

Not for her, but for a poor family in a poverty-stricken country.

Ariel, a junior at Maumee High School, is the vice president of a student volunteer organization called Interact, which is sponsored by the Maumee Rotary Club.

Now in its third year at Maumee High, there are more than 10,000 Interact clubs worldwide. There are at least two others in northwest Ohio, at Sylvania Southview and St. Francis de Sales high schools.

Maumee's Interact is taking part in the Heifer Project, which provides livestock to families in poverty-stricken countries.

Michelle Erford, a member of Maumee High School's Interact board of directors, encourages other students to sign up to be literacy tutors for Ohio Reads. Michelle Erford, a member of Maumee High School's Interact board of directors, encourages other students to sign up to be literacy tutors for Ohio Reads.
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Ariel said she thought it would take $500 to pay for the animals on the group's wish list. Raising money for causes like these is one major reason people like Ariel joins Interact.

"It's fun to help other people out," she said. "You're able to be a part of a family or a team and help others. We try to go out and help better the community and the world."

To raise the money for the Heifer Project, Interact waged a penny war at Maumee High this week, in which all four grades and the teachers competed to see who can raise the most money through pennies.

Interact tries to take on one large community and international project each year, as well as several smaller projects. Last month, members aided in Maumee's Holiday Hustle 5K race and ensuing lights parade.

Last year, the club raised $500 through a dessert sale for water wells to be drilled in Vietnam. The student-led group also helps out at the local senior center and held a school supplies' drive to send necessary learning materials to several schools in Guatemala.

"We try to teach the principles of volunteerism," said Carl Sass, a retired teacher and Maumee Rotarian assigned to Interact. "We hope the students can learn those principles and one day want to be Rotarians. Our motto is to put service above self."

Interact meets at Maumee High once a month and is open to students ages 14 through 18. Groups looking for volunteers approach Interact to seek help, and the organization's members decide which projects they want to get involved with.

Senior Allison Smith, the president of the Maumee club, said the organization has about 50 members this year, including some who are in their second or third year of membership.

Maumee Superintendent Greg Smith, president of the Maumee Rotary Club this year, transports interested eighth grade students to Interact meetings in the spring so they will be accustomed to them when they enter the ninth grade.

It's all part of an effort to expose children to the benefits of volunteering for good causes.

"Whenever you look at a strong community, you see people in the community who volunteer and give back," Mr. Smith said.

"And from an education standpoint, colleges are putting more and more emphasis in the application process on what a student has done to volunteer."

Students say they know the benefit of being able to mention Interact on a college resume, but Ariel said she likes the way volunteering makes her feel.

"It's just an enjoyable experience," she said. "Especially when you get a chance to help older generations. They tell you how things were when they were our age, and it's easy to learn from them. I really enjoy those days."



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