By Jordan Unger
Megan Evans, a senior at Youngstown State University, co-founded PAYO as a service project in 2015. The group aims to raise awareness and donations for children with limited resources in Youngstown. Events are held throughout the semester to acquire donations, all of which are given to kids at local elementary schools in the spring.
PAYO partnered with the Advancing Education-Reducing Crime initiative, a change from last April’s event. Elizabeth Zoccole, graduate assistant who volunteered at the carnival, said the collaboration links the importance of education and staying safe.
“We’re talking about police officers, their duties in the community and how they have a positive impact,” Zoccole said. “Officer Awadallah is here today to show that the children can interact with him on a positive level and not be afraid of him.”
An activity at the criminal justice booth let kids determine the difference between positive and negative choices in situations such as bullying or being offered drugs. Zoccole said she was pleased with how the students were responding to it.
“They seem to understand the difference between the negative and positive of a situation and chose the right way,” Zoccole said.
Evans said the need for more collaborations came as a lesson from last year.
“As long as you really make those connections and talk to people about what’s happening in the city, you can partner and make something bigger,” Evans said.
This year’s donation collection centered on books and dental hygiene products. Evans said it was much easier for PAYO to focus on specific donations than a broad spectrum.
“Compared to 1,000 books last year, we have over 4,700 this year,” Evans said. “We were able to make partnerships more pointed, so that way we could have a larger amount of donations.”
Student groups such as the Student Art Association, the Room of Requirement, the American Chemistry Association and Intro to Honors classes organized the activities, including face-painting, pie-tossing and a variety of carnival-styled games. Co-organizer Marta Hergenrother said the diverse selection of activities is important.
“It caters to the students and the kids more because everyone has different interests,” Hergenrother said. “If they are able to see more activities going on, it might spark their interest in something that they didn’t really know about.”
Each of the Intro to Honors groups were permitted to create their own activity for the kids. AnnMarie Lowerre, honors student who volunteered at the event, ran a booth where the kids had to guess which Disney movie would play next on a random shuffle.
“It’s cool to be a part of something where they’re spreading the awareness of reading, hygiene and just being able to have fun,” Lowerre said.
Students Noor Khalayleh, Sarah Elisabeth Odidika and Jasmine Smyles co-coordinated the event as well. PAYO will be helmed by the four co-coordinators after Evans graduates this semester, something that Khalayleh said will be a big change for the group.
“We’re going to miss Megan, and it’s going to be really odd to not have her around,” Khalayleh said.” But the way that our family has been working together lately, throughout this whole experience, I feel like we’ll have more organization skills and more experience coming in the fall.”
The carnival ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Donations were also distributed to Martin Luther King Elementary School, William Holmes McGuffey Elementary School and Taft Elementary School.