Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

August 23, 2013

Festival to aid Tools-4-Schools

BRISTOL — Karsyn Bell of Bristol didn’t have a very long life. She passed on from brain cancer when she was just 4-years-old. But the impression she left — one of kindness, joy and love — has continued to inspire many people.

It certainly inspired Debbie Micola of Elkhart, who through her own experiences with people who make a difference, founded the first Pay It Forward Festival in Bristol five years ago.

Through Santa’s Pantry, which she also founded along with several fundraising events including the Pay It Forward Festival, Micola and her group of volunteers donate thousands of pounds of food and thousands of dollars to other pantries and local nonprofits each year.

After hearing of Karsyn, Micola asked the girl’s parents if she could rename the festival in her honor. They readily agreed, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the fifth annual Karsyn Bell Festival will be held this Saturday at Congdon Park in Bristol.

One of the new recipients of Micola’s fundraising efforts is Tools-4-Schools, a Maple City Kiwanis program to benefit teachers and students.

“We found one survey that said teachers spent between $200 and $1,000 out of pocket to stock their classroom with teaching tools and supplies,” said Tools-4-Schools co-chair Janet Buccicone.

Although the program began in 2002, it grew significantly under the direction of Buccicone and co-chair Earlene Nofziger.

“We were ecstatic when we found out that we would be receiving help from the Karsyn Bell fundraising event,” Buccicone said. “It is an outstanding way for us to volunteer and get the word out about Tools-4-Schools.”

The group provides teachers everything from basic classroom supplies to area rugs and has even filled a few special orders.

“We had one teacher ask for 25 handmade chair pockets,” Buccicone said. “And she told someone and they told someone and they told someone, and all of a sudden we had 688 orders for chair pockets!”

It took a group of volunteers three months and nine days to fill the order.

In the past, Tools-4-Schools has received help from Greenlockers, a group formed at Granger Community Church.

“They collect all the stuff that kids throw away at the end of the school year,” Buccicone said. “The sort through it and give away what can be used again. You wouldn’t believe what great stuff these kids throw out!”

Tool-4-Schools was also able to supply classrooms with science materials donated by Ethos Science Center in Elkhart.

Micola’s goal, however, is not only to benefit food pantries and nonprofits, but to teach children about how to “pay it forward.”

“I am really working to teach children about kindness,” Micola said. “It seems like it’s not very high on their priority lists these days. It’s as simple as sitting next to someone at lunch who has no one to sit with. It’s as simple as giving someone a smile or opening the door for them. It’s as simple as telling them to do three more kind things for others and telling each of them to do three more kind things.”

Her Pay It Forward clubs are open to anyone from grades three through 12. For those interested in becoming part of a local club, log on to www.santaspantry.org.

“We took the kids to a grocery store and had them hand out carnations randomly,” Micola said. “You should have seen people’s faces! They were so surprised and so happy.”

Another of her goals is to introduce kids to volunteerism. It’s something Micola takes very seriously. So it came as a bit of a shock when she began organizing this year’s Karsyn Bell Festival.  

“It was a little scary,” Micola said. “My usual group of volunteers was not able to help. I need about 50 to 75 people to help run the festival and I only had five!”

After calming herself down, Micola called everyone she knew.

And then, just last week, the calls started coming in.

“Of course we’ll help! they said,” Micola said. “It’s amazing how everything just turned around.”

New this year to the festival is Scout Wars.

“Boy and Girl Scouts and their friends can participate in all sorts of relays and team building activities,” Micola said.

In one activity, scouts will be given a backpack and told they are lost and asked what they would do to signal for help with only what they have in their backpacks. In another activity they are asked to create shelter using only the items in their packs.

“There’s a new rocket-launching game and we will also have a 25-foot inflatable space ship with a rock wall,” Micola said. “One of the coolest things this year is the Airborne Adventure! It’s an inflatable that you can go inside. When the door is shut, pressure builds up and the chair the child is sitting in goes up about 20 feet in the air. I think they’ll get a big kick out of that.”

Fire spinners from Pyro Arts of Michiana will perform throughout the day and festival-goers can take a wagon ride around downtown Bristol. Other activities include silly dance, chalk drawing and children’s pie judging contests, duck pond game, ping pong toss, water balloon basketball, balloon pop and parent-child obstacle course.

A full-size Thomas the Tank Engine will also take children for rides for $3 per ticket. The festival also features food vendors and 30 craft vendors. There is no admission for the festival, but food and cash donations are appreciated.

For more information call 262-4478.

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