CUMBERLAND — The sign in Chris Hoffman’s classroom at Greely High School nods to Mr. T: “I pity the fool who does not recycle.”
It also echoes a sentiment felt strongly by the student group advised by Hoffman, who teaches several subjects including social studies.
Improved recycling efforts and environmental awareness in the school and community is the cause of the Global Awareness Club, which recently raised almost $50,000 for the purchase and installation of 36 solar energy panels at the school.
The group’s two dozen members meet weekly after school. Senior Ameerah Saker said she was inspired to join as a freshman when the principal encouraged involvement in school activities. The Global Awareness Club appealed to her, and she now leads it with fellow senior Carly Buchanan.
“It was a really nice atmosphere, and just for a good cause,” Saker said.
One major cause was the solar panel project, which required significant fundraising and writing grant applications. A major grant from the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s Renewable Resources Fund provided 80 percent of the money.
The rest came from other grants – $5,000 from Fairchild Semiconductor in South Portland and $1,000 from the non-profit organization Ashoka’s Youth Venture – as well as several fundraisers: a Valentine’s Day card sale, a student dance at Wescustago Hall in North Yarmouth, and a Bob Marley show at Greely Middle School.
“We were nervous that it was not going to turn out like we wanted it to, and that we wouldn’t be able to raise the money, and we wouldn’t get the grants,” Saker said, “but everything kind of started falling into place.”
The work began in 2008, led by former students Dana Hanley and Tess Carley and former adviser Julie Doughty. It culminated with installation of the panels last summer.
Junior Katie Longo said she wasn’t sure, even if the club succeeded in raising money for the panels, about how energy-efficient they would prove to be. But “I was really surprised when we saw we could do so much with what we had done,” she said.
Buchanan said the club members want the panels to inspire the community and set an example of environmental awareness.
The panels could save School Administrative District 51 about $150 a month in energy cost, or an annual savings of more than $1,800. The savings would come from 11,428 kwh of renewable energy a year, and would prevent nearly 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year.
Early this school year the club turned its focus to a different sort of cause, raising $152 and more than 30 bags of clothing and shoes for the Zimbabwe Orphanage Project.
A future project may be sending money and clothes to Cambodia. The mother of club member Lila Hall, a sophomore, is involved in a school that provides scholarships for women, and she is returning next April, Saker said. Hoffman said a school/community garden could also be in the works.
Seeing how much teenagers can achieve is rewarding for Longo and her fellow club members. “You kind of say to yourself, oh, if I put my mind to it I can do a whole bunch,” she said. “But now … every week, you’re getting together with people and you’re actually seeing a project through and seeing its effect on the community that you live in.”
Kerry O’Shea, who serves as the club’s secretary, added that “you think that you’re a very small part of this world, and then you can put solar panels on the school, and you realize that maybe you have a bigger impact than you thought.”
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of Greely High School’s Global Awareness Club include, back row from left, Kerry O’Shea, Carly Buchanan, Elizabeth Hart, Becca Littlefield and teacher advisor Chris Hoffman. In the front row from left are Emily Hill, Ameerah Saker and Katie Longo. All students but Longo are seniors at the Cumberland school.