"What do youth pastors, veterans, creative writing, a scavenger hunt and a preschool promise have in common?" asks Warren native Brent Scarpo.
Each one was considered for the $1,000 Warren Area High School (WAHS) Student of Character Scholarship Scarpo administers.
For the past two years, Scarpo - a 1980 graduate of Warren Area High School -has been a keynote speaker at his former alma mater, presenting programs on diverse subject matters for the students. In addition, he has pledged to give $5,000 in scholarships to deserving seniors who display and represent good character.
Sedon reads to preschoolers and hands out books
"The scholarship is based strictly on good character and how students create positive change in their community," Scarpo explained. "There are plenty of scholarships for athletes as well as those students with outstanding grades, but I wanted to create a scholarship where the only criteria considered was a student's good character. In short, how do they lead with their heart."
The first year recipient donated her scholarship back to Mr. Scarpo, which was used to provide anti-bullying educational materials to each department head at WAHS. This year, the students were asked to create a community service project and report their results to the voting committee of three judges.
The senior finalists included Andrew Stanton, Allie Sedon, Molly Berardi, Tyler Dziendziel and Eric Zavinski.
"Each student created amazing service projects, which brought light and love to those they served in the Warren community," Scarpo said. "After much consideration, the committee chose a project that not only represented good character and positive change but also created the concept of 'pay it forward'."
After collecting more than 350 books for preschoolers and then spending a week reading to preschoolers at various schools and churches in the Warren County area, letting students know that the free books they received must be given to a new student after they are done reading it, the 2013/2014 WAHS Student of Character Scholarship is awarded to Allie Sedon for her service project, "The Preschool Promise."
"After reading to the kids, each child would be able to pick out their own book to take home and read with their families," Sedon explained. "On each book, there is a sticker that reads 'This book was donated to you by the Preschool Promise Project. When you are done reading it, pass it along to another family!' After receiving their books, we would all share a snack before I left."
Sedon collected books for preschoolers from the community, posting to Facebook, Twitter and her church bulletin, asking for donations. The response was overwhelming; more than 350 books were donated.
When Sedon read to preschoolers at the YMCA, she explained the stickers on the books and what that meant.
"The kids were excited to pass their books on to younger siblings," Sedon said.
She also shared her concept at other preschools and at the YMCA's Happy, Healthy Kids Day and set up a table at her neighborhood garage sale and handed out books, asking for a donation to the program in return.
"I donated the leftover money to the A.R.K program to replenish their art supplies and to both preschools for supplies and snacks," she said.
Scarpo said, "All of the projects were amazing and it was a tough decision and I would like to congratulate all of the finalists as well as the winner, Allie Sedon."
Scarpo particularly appreciates older students mentoring younger students, and Sedon's project actually did that two-fold with her own activities and the preschoolers giving to others
"I have travelled to each state numerous times speaking at various schools, and the most successful high schools use this model of peer mentoring," Scarpo said. "Students are bombarded with messages from parents, teachers and nearly every adult you can imagine, but a student mentoring program brings peers together bringing leadership skills to the mentor, while providing much needed information and guidance for the student being mentored. It becomes a WIN WIN situation for all a concerned."
"Pay it forward" is "a twist on the concept of random acts of kindness," Scarpo said, "which is desperately needed in our schools and our world. WAHS has started such a club, which last Valentines Day put thousands of post-its on each student's locker that simply said, 'You are LOVED.' I often wondered after that random act of kindness how many students read or felt that for the very first time in their life. Paying it forward requires an essential ingredient and that is unconditional love, which can never go wrong and can only produce something very right."
Although Scarpo lives in California, part of his heart will always remain in his hometown, and he feels it's appropriate to give and return some of his good fortune to the town in which he grew up.
"They say home is where the heart is, and encouraging and helping students from your home town is a responsibility we should all share in the world," Scarpo said. "Can you imagine if one person from every graduating class from each town in the United States chose to give back once in their life time. Now imagine if every person from each graduating class chose to give back to their hometown once in their lifetime. My mother always taught me to give back in some way and giving back to the place you call home is once of the best places to give."
Scarpo will return in the fall to WAHS to present another speaking program to the students, as well as announce the winner of the Teacher of the Year Award, where a deserving teacher will be awarded a $1,000 prize for their service at WAHS.