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AAHS students give back to community through PAWS | News, Sports, Jobs

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Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Altoona Area High School students (from left) Kiera Mutzabaugh, teacher Tori Crumrine, Cahner Gunsallus, Samuel Frederick and Aiden Mutzabaugh wrap gifts at the Altoona Adult Rehabilitation Center on Seventh Avenue.

Helping out in the community and keeping track of sales are just two of the ventures students in the PAWS program in the Altoona Area High School undertake as part of their school day.

Students in the program still have the core academic classes but added into the mix are community service activities — everything from helping wrap Christmas presents to cleaning up local parks.

The Personal growth & Academic development With Success program — affectionately called PAWS — offers students a calm environment in which to learn while giving them the opportunity to acquire workplace skills. For instance, tracking the snack shop sales and inventory provides business skills, said Paula Foreman, district spokesperson.

Currently, 10 students are enrolled in the program.

“We go out into the community and help wherever we are needed,” teacher Kristie Williams said.

Recently, PAWS students assisted Lt. Owantyonia Weems of the Salvation Army in Altoona where they got to work wrapping presents for men in the adult rehabilitation program.

The men live in the organization’s 40-bed facility free of charge while they recover from drug and alcohol addictions, Weems said.

“We help them recover spiritually, mentally and emotionally with the goal of getting them back into their homes,” she said.

With the students’ help, Weems hopes that the gifts will help the men enjoy Christmas and know the love of Jesus.

Weems said it warms her heart to see the students so willing to give a hand and she hopes they recognize they did something good.

“Doing something positive and helping people — that is what the holidays are all about,” she said.

For 10th grade student Kiera Mutzabaugh, the outing was fun and helping out others is a great feeling.

“We are wrapping presents for those struggling with drugs and alcohol,” she said. “I like that we are helping people and making them feel better about Christmas.”

Her brother Aiden Mutzabaugh, a ninth grader, said helping out is fun to do together as a group and the PAWS program offers more opportunities to help others.

“I like the program because it is a lot calmer. You have more time to do stuff, and I like helping people,” he said.

Teacher Tori Crumrine said this is the second year the students helped out at the Salvation Army.

“It was really fun, and I’m so glad to be doing it again,” she said.

Students in the PAWS program have helped out with the Nehemiah Project, at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop and at the local animal shelter.

The students also go into the elementary schools to help with the snack shop incentive programs.

Williams said this week the group also helped out at the Saint Vincent de Paul Food Pantry as well.

“They do a little bit of everything around town,” she said. “It gets kids out of the classroom and into the community to help out.”

When the opportunity comes up, the students also go to a local park to clean up trash and beautiful neighborhoods.

Tenth grade student Samuel Frederick said they really enjoy helping people and the program offers an opportunity to get experience and to get out into the community.

“Personally, the program is a lot easier for me than the high school because there is less bullying, and it is a safe place,” Frederick said.

Frederick enjoyed helping out with the turkey bowl and running the snack carts at elementary schools.

The program is “about getting the kids out and giving them an appreciation for their neighborhoods, and a sense of giving back to their community,” Williams said.

The students’ schedules vary day by day depending on the need for community service.

“It’s just a really great group of kids and I’m very fortunate to be a part of this,” Williams said.

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