Sixth-Graders 'Pay it Forward' Through Gift Wrapping, Brown Bags


CATEGORY: News and Community; Philanthropy

It took some creativity, a crash course in gift wrapping, and a few creative fundraising ideas, but three sixth-graders from Mater Dei Academy in Willoughby raised several thousand dollars-worth of donations for Hospice of the Western Reserve over the winter holidays.  

Andrew Theilman, 12, of Wickliffe, and Nico Tartaglia, 12, and Finnegan (Finn) Fretter, 11, both of Willoughby, stopped by the David Simpson Hospice House on March 22 to share their fundraising tips.

The location held a special meaning for Nico, who had several relatives stay at the house, including a beloved grandfather. "I had three relatives pass away here," Nico said. "My grandfather died here two years ago." 

"That's why we selected it," Finnegan  said. He, along with Andrew, understood the emotional connection Nico had to the hospice house and the meaning behind selecting the location as a donation site.  

The three put their heads together to complete the school's "Pay it Forward Foundation" service project. They called Nico's mother, Deana Tartaglia, who suggested wrapping presents for donations at the Great Lakes Mall at the holidays. They promptly got a crash course in gift wrapping, which none of them had experience in. They referred to the venture as "Holidays for Hospice" and their donation bucket quickly filled.
Andrew continued the project at his parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Cleveland. With the help of his mother, Carol Thielman, he came up with the concept of "Bags of Hope for Hospice." Andrew created brown bags with Hospice of the Western Reserve wish lists attached and presented them to parishioners. The boys were stunned by the generosity. They left bins out for donations, and like the donation bucket at the mall, they quickly filled.

"People were generous," Andrew said. In addition to donating a hefty check, the three also delivered three large bins and a bag filled with art supplies, CDs, Wii games and a host of items from the patients' wish lists.

Finally, Finnegan's mother, Denise Cagna, invited her son to her Bible study group at Immaculate Conception Church in Willoughby, where he made a presentation and received cash donations. In total, the trio estimated they received about $2300 in cash and donated items.

The boys took away a number of lessons from the four-month project and credited the generosity of others for making the Pay it Forward project such a big success.

"Many people have had bad things happen, and the idea of helping others was heartwarming," Finnegan said.

 Andrew admitted to being surprised about how many people donated to support their mission of helping hospice patients. He said when people learned about the three students and their project, they were touched. Others "felt good about us helping the community," he said.

The boys' mothers, who accompanied them to David Simpson Hospice House, felt the boys learned important lessons, including how to interact with the public and the meaning of giving back. 

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