5 years of sharing: ‘Pay it Forward’ club in Swan Valley School District celebrates Christmas by giving to others
Jeff Schrier | Mlive.com From left, Maribeth Neiderquill, Emma Bierlein, Gracie Neiderquill and Lori Rowe wrap presents at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 1035 N. River in Thomas Township, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Approximately 85 Swan Valley School District students from grades two through eight and their families wrapped Christmas gifts for 17 adopted families. Swan Valley Pay It Forward started as a group of 10 students five years ago who wanted to adopt families for the holiday season, and has since grown to more than 160 students in the school district.
SHIELDS, MI — Swan Valley High School sophomore Landen Wagner said the best part of “paying it forward” is seeing the joy it brings to other families in the community.
“I just like getting to see the little children’s faces when we deliver the gifts and how happy they get,” the 16-year-old said.
Wagner is one of the original 10 students of Swan Valley Pay It Forward. The group began five years ago when parents of students on a Swan Valley travel baseball team decided to adopt a family for the holidays. Swan Valley Pay It Forward has since grown to include more than 160 students from Havens Elementary School, Shields Elementary School, Swan Valley Middle School and Swan Valley High School, who volunteer to help multiple families throughout the community every year.
“It’s just nice to see that it continues to grow every year and that more people are getting involved,” Wagner said.
Tracey Williams, Swan Valley Pay It Forward coordinator and mother of sons Trey, 16, and Ian, 11, who are in the group, said the group is helping about 43 children this holiday season, as well other unsuspecting families in the community. She said Swan Valley Pay It Forward finds families to help through the school district, which provides the names and ages of children for whom to shop.
Williams said the Swan Valley Pay It Forward group encourages students to work together with their friends to help families in need. She said she hopes the students learn paying it forward is fun, and they feel a sense of accomplishment bringing happiness to others.
“We’re so focused on the receiving portion of Christmas; it teaches them to give back to the community,” she said.
Williams said the group rewards children for their academic and citizenship accomplishments in the “Shopping with a Sophomore” program by having older students in the program take the younger students on a shopping spree. She said depending on how many children Swan Valley Pay It Forward helps, each child receives about $75 to $100 to make their holiday wishes come true.
Swan Valley Pay It Forward is delivering wreaths and gifts, too, Williams said. The “Ding Dong Gifting” program borrows its name from the prank where children ring doorbells and run away, she said, but the students leave presents behind instead. On the days Swan Valley Pay It Forward delivers gifts, the group also randomly passes out gift cards to shoppers with toys in their carts and pays for meals at restaurants.
The group’s motto this year is “get your kindness on,” with the message that students can make a real difference in the community one small deed at a time, Williams said. By helping families in need, she said, students also learn to appreciate what they have.
“They have a really good life, and they have good homes and a good school district, and not everyone has that,” she said.
Wagner said being in Swan Valley Pay It Forward has taught him to not take anything for granted. He said paying it forward is a “chain reaction” of good deeds, and he hopes the group’s gestures of kindness inspire others to care.
“It makes me happy inside, and it makes me feel like I’m doing something right,” he said. “It makes me and everyone else feel really good about ourselves.”
Swan Valley High School sophomore Noah Stewart also has been with Swan Valley Pay It Forward from the beginning. He said the students’ involvement is meaningful to the community because they find out what families need and the group is able to provide it.
“No one knows what people are going through, so it’s kind of a humbling experience for all the people in the group to find out what the needy families don’t have,” the 15-year-old said.
Swan Valley Pay It Forward fundraises throughout the year, including can drives, car washes, and soup and salad dinners, to help make Christmas dreams a reality for families in Saginaw County.
“It’s very exciting, and it’s very fulfilling to know that you’re making a family very happy, and you’re letting them have an experience they always wanted to have,” Stewart said.
Williams said the group reached its fundraising goal to cover expenses for delivering gifts this season, but donations still are accepted. Williams can be reached at 6450 Trinklein Road, Saginaw, MI 48609, or by phone at 989-284-5366.
“It really does take a village, and we’re really fortunate that we’ve had so much community support,” she said.