STARS Students Shine Through Donation
March 25, 2021 by Amy Patterson

A recent book club project inspired a group of West Geauga Schools students to give back to their community.

A recent book club project inspired a group of West Geauga Schools students to give back to their community.

Their teacher, Sara DeMuch, said students in her Specialized Teaching for Children with Autism and Resource Services program at the high school collected toiletries, bedding and other essential items for The City Mission, a Cleveland nonprofit found in 1910 that helps people in crisis overcome homelessness and achieve a stable future.

Her classroom is part of the STARS program, run through the Educational Service Center of the Western Reserve, which provides educational services to school-aged students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in an academic environment that fosters acceptance, independence and success, according to the ESC website.

Students can stay in the program past grade 12 and up to age 22 under state special education guidelines.

DeMuch’s class decided on the drive after the class read “Crenshaw,” a young-adult novel by Katherine Applegate.

The book is about a family that is going through hard times and struggles to afford rent and food. At one point, they have to live out of their car for a few months, DeMuch said.

Crenshaw is an imaginary friend that helps Jackson, one of the characters in the book, learn about what’s really important in life.

DeMuch said she discussed the book with parents and they agreed while it brought up difficult subjects, the COVID-19 pandemic was the perfect time to read it, since everyone is struggling.

“We talked a lot about situations in our own lives when things were hard, we didn’t have enough money, parents lost jobs, people had to move,” DeMuch said. “I was blown away by the connections my students were making and (by) their empathy.”

As students talked over the themes in the book, the idea of a service project came up and they decided to help children and families in similar situations to the one they were reading about, she said.

The students helped generate the idea of the service project and created a flyer listing the items they were collecting to share with family and friends.

DeMuch felt The City Mission’s objective aligned with the book, as well as with the idea behind the service project.

The group operates both a women’s and men’s crisis center, as well as a program to assist people with access to affordable housing after overcoming homelessness.

According to its annual report, in 2020, The City Mission provided shelter to 48,000 women and children, and almost 38,000 men experiencing homelessness.

The organization publishes a list of needed items at www.thecitymission.org/material-gifts, which includes toiletries and stationery. Groups and individuals can also donate household goods and appliances to help people who have achieved homeownership.

DeMuch said the class book club started meeting every day at 1 p.m. when the COVID-19 pandemic began last March.

The students have loved the club and it’s helped them stay connected, she said.

They have met virtually, and in-person, no matter where they were, to discuss a chapter book. DeMuch said the club has encouraged a love of reading for her students.

Before she found “Crenshaw,” DeMuch said the class read two other titles by Applegate — “The One and Only Ivan” and its sequel, “The One and Only Bob.”

“There was some hesitation early on and I even had a student say, ‘You know I can’t read chapter books,’ to which I responded, ‘Who says you can’t?’” DeMuch said. “He not only reads with us, he connects with characters, carries around books throughout the day and asks for books for holiday presents now.”