Paying it forward and back

Paying it forward and back

Image Credit: Lori Feeney

On Friday, April 22, 175 students from Tuscarawas Valley High School infiltrated the school district’s towns, villages and townships with one goal in mind: paying it forward.

Pay It Forward Day has been a tradition at Tusky Valley for several years. It’s a day when mostly freshmen and sophomores fan out through the district and perform tasks for the community. Juniors and seniors are excused as it is prom day, and they need time to get ready for the event.

Some of the upperclassmen will show up to help, as they may need to complete their 16 hours of community service work required for graduation or just because they enjoy the work.

Mulching, raking up dead leaves and washing fire trucks are among the tasks the students performed throughout the district. The beneficiaries of their work include communities from the Atwood Lake area to Bolivar.

In Zoar students raked away the detritus from the lily beds, trimmed away dead blooms from the hydrangeas in the Zoar Garden, and helped spruce up the wetland and cemetery.

In Mineral City and Fairfield Township, they gave the fire trucks a washing and picked up trash people leave behind.

In Bolivar they mulched the flower beds downtown, picked up downed limbs and dead leaves at the library and baseball fields, and cleaned up a former dumping site the village wants to beautify.

Bolivar Mayor Tim Lang is appreciative for the work the students performed. “They performed nearly 80 man hours of work in 3 1/2 hours,” he said. “That’s work we didn’t have to pay for, so the impact is significant. Those kids pulled their weight and did an excellent job. I was impressed.”

Paying it back

According to Jason Phillips, Tusky Valley High School principal, the point of all this activity isn’t just to pay it forward, but also to pay back the community for its continuous support. “Whether it’s Bolivar, Mineral City, Atwood or anywhere else, they’re the people that support us financially and in other ways,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the event had to be canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic. “I met with the students three times because only the seniors had ever experienced it,” he said. “I explained that this is about more than just earning your community service hours; it’s about doing some good and giving back to the community that supports us.”

Phillips credits Rebecca Leshon, the high school secretary, for organizing the crews and sending them where they are needed. “It’s fun watching kids who may not know each other well pitching in and working together,” he said. “It’s an awesome thing.”

After the students completed their work, they gathered back at the high school for lunch and an afternoon of fun. They could choose to watch a movie in the auditorium, play board games in the cafeteria or recreate in the gym or stadium as a reward for their efforts.

Other beneficiaries

John Lewis, park manager for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, said the work the students performed was a huge help to the organization.

“They cleaned up the wooded areas and picnic areas from all the branches and sticks that pile up over the winter,” Lewis said. “They also picked up trash that collects throughout the year. We love it when they come here because it’s a huge help.”

Other communities and organizations that received help were Hennis Care Centre, Camp Tuscazoar, Warren Township, the Mineral City Library, Fort Laurens, and the Tusky Valley High School and Middle School, where the grounds were cleaned.

Renewal levy on the ballot

Tusky Valley has a renewal levy on the May 3 ballot. According to Superintendent Mark Murphy, the district relies on the $940,000 annually it generates for operations. “It helps pay for everything from salaries, to instructional materials, to technology and just keeping the lights on,” Murphy said.

The 10-year fixed sum operating levy is not an additional tax but a renewal of the levy that has been approved by voters every year since 1998, according to Murphy.

“This district has been generous to us, and we’re so grateful,” he said. “Not only is Pay It Forward Day a phenomenal experience for our young people, but it also is appropriate and fitting that we give back to our community because without them this school district does not exist.”