Students join to make lives brighter for orphans

YOUNGSTOWN -- Seeing photographs of the orphans made Jessica Estes want to bring one home.
Their living conditions, which include rooms of peeling paint, no hot water and overcrowding, reinforced her desire to help.
Estes, a Choffin Career Center student, also said pictures of the squalid, weather-beaten building and adjacent rundown play area disturbed her. The kids spend most of their playtime sitting in a grassy area with little to do, she noted.
When Estes showed the set of pictures to her Choffin class, they also wanted to give to the Sofia, Bulgaria, orphanage.
Charity Pappas, a senior at The Rayen School, and about 25 other Rayen students also decided to contribute. Soon, Pappas, 18, was informing businesses and others of her intentions.
"Westside Merchants gave us $50," Pappas said. "I called lots of businesses like toy stores, kids' clothing stores and Wal-Mart."
Many contributions: Some established drop-off sites, and Pappas got many people to make $5 to $10 contributions.
She also sent letters to teachers in the Youngstown school system and received additional donations. Students from Choffin and Rayen also obtained clothing and other items from area merchants.
Estes and other students in Jennie Mamula's information technology class sold many of the items on the Internet through eBay and raised about $600 total.
They spent about half that amount on diapers, powder and assorted clothing to go to the 300 kids at the orphanage, who range in age from newborn to age 18.
Pappas said she wasn't sure at first if the project would work "because of its enormity." But local TV coverage boosted her expectations and encouraged others to help. The experience gave her a more global view, she said.
"It's taught me a lot. In the U.S., we take a lot for granted. It's taught me kids [in Bulgaria] don't have half of what we have, yet they're content," she said.
Estes said she was upset when she started raising money because many people were reluctant to contribute. Local news coverage, however, made her efforts easier, she said.
What students learned: Barbara Ross, Rayen's librarian, said she wanted students to learn job, philanthropy, letter-writing and other computer skills. The students learned how to sell new and used items over the Internet, she said.
Ross also serves on the board of directors of Finally Family, a Chicago-based adoption agency. In March, she and several students traveled to Chicago and met Michele Mikhael Taneva, an interpreter for the agency. Taneva, a Bulgarian native, explained to the group what life is like in Bulgaria.
After their one-day trip, the students decided to assist the orphanage.
They later realized, however, that the money they raised and materials they bought might be stolen or confiscated in Bulgaria before reaching their destination. Taneva said she would accompany the items to be sure they arrived at the orphanage.
To get the supplies to Chicago, Ross contacted a neighbor, who is a pilot for Southwest Airlines. He took the seven boxes to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and flew them to Chicago for free.
He also gave Taneva the additional $300 to go toward a hot water heater for the orphanage, the first for the facility.
Pappas and Estes said they would like to establish contact with the kids, despite the language barrier. Pappas also said she hopes next year's class will continue to help the orphanage.

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