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Taking action

Tyrone students make a difference at home, abroad

Tyrone Area High School juniors (from left) Mackenzie Ritter, Kevin Carper and Marley Grazier fill goodie bags in preparation for the 8th annual Youth Action Network Halloween event, which will be held Tuesday. Mirror photo by Rachel Foor

TYRONE — A group of socially conscious students at the Tyrone Area High School are working to improve not only their local community, but also the international community through fundraising efforts and educational opportunities.

The Youth Action Network, commonly referred to as YAN, formed in fall 2009 and has since worked collaboratively with numerous organizations and individuals from around the world.

The group’s first focus was the genocide in Darfur that took place in western Sudan beginning in 2003. The students have also worked to support the efforts of Dr. Denis Mukwege, the head of the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to Cummins McNitt, YAN’s adviser and the high school’s social studies teacher, Mukwege won a Nobel Peace Prize two years ago for treating female survivors of rape through extensive surgeries. Many of the patients stay at the hospital for as long as a year to recover and during that time, while their children attend school, they learn the skills needed to sustain themselves and their family.

Interest in the world outside the classroom has given group members the opportunity to listen to such speakers as John Bul Dao, one of the “lost boys of the Sudan”; Invisible Children, an organization formed to help the youth of central Africa and fight Joseph Kony’s army; Carl Wilkins, the only American to remain behind through the Rwandan genocide; OmeKongo Dibinga, an educator and rapper who brings awareness to global humanitarian issues; and Dr. Lee Ann DeReus and Peter Frantz of the Panzi Hospital.

Tyrone Area High School students participate in the annual YAN Halloween event. Courtesy photo

“I think we all joined because we wanted to branch out to everybody and make a difference,” said Marley Grazier, a junior and vice president of YAN.

An ongoing project of the group is working with students from marginalized populations.

Over the past year, YAN has worked with students of an Inuit village in northern Canada and soon hopes to begin working with Navajo students in New Mexico and students in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Locally, the group supports the Tyrone Area Food Bank and the American Red Cross through fundraising events.

“It’s one of the clubs where you can actually reach out to the community and make a difference,” Grazier said. “A lot of the clubs are only school events, like we just do it with the students, but with this, we make an effect on the community as well.”

Tyrone Area High School students distribute goodie bags during the annual Youth Action Network Halloween event. Courtesy photo

In addition to their philanthropic work, YAN members take the time to visit places like Pittsburgh’s “Around the World in a Day” Folk Festival, Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust Museum, the Smithsonian Museums and other national memorials.

“This is the most impactful club at our school,” said Vivian Sciarrillo, a junior.

According to the Tyrone Area High School website, the Youth Action Network has raised about $10,000 for the Panzi Hospital and $1,100 for the Tyrone Area Food Bank.

The hospital’s donated funds have been used to install plumbing and help the school, McNitt said.

“The students decided who would receive the donations and the Panzi Hospital has been the group’s main cause for about a decade,” he said.

Tyrone Area High School Youth Action Network members worked to fill goodie bags in preparation for the upcoming 8th annual YAN Halloween Event. Mirror photo by Rachel Foor

One of the group’s main fundraising events is the annual YAN Halloween. Now entering its eighth consecutive year, YAN Halloween 2021 will be held Tuesday at the high school.

The schools’ campuses will open from 5 to 7 p.m. for trick-or-treaters to gather candy and participate in Halloween-themed activities. Like the 2020 event, this year will be held on a drive-thru basis due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, but families are encouraged to wear costumes while remaining in their vehicles.

“We would prefer an indoor event because we have much more interaction with our young visitors,” McNitt said. “Frankly, the students — older and younger — prefer to have that sort of engagement.”

McNitt said the group has gotten pretty creative over the years with the Halloween event and they are looking forward to returning to an in-person gathering when pandemic conditions ease.

The YAN Halloween Highway Event will start with the opening station at the entrance between the high school and elementary school, where participants will receive a bag filled with treats and activities before starting on the designated route, Ramsey said.

Roughly 30 staff members and 130 students from various school clubs and organizations will have stations set up along the way to hand out additional goodies.

There will be cheering handouts from the junior high cheerleaders, glow sticks and a scavenger hunt activity from student council, a sheet with spooky science experiments from the science department and a “Terror-iffic Tale of Tyrone” madlib activity from the English department. That activity has the students name items, monsters and local places to create a unique Tyrone-based Halloween story.

The Eagle Eye News, a student news organization, will also continue its tradition of sponsoring a car decorating contest. Photos will be taken of each eligible vehicle and after the event, an online vote will be held to determine the winners. In addition to being recognized online, winners will be awarded gift cards to local restaurants, McNitt said.

“The event brings joy to the young ones, but also to the YAN members because they see how their hard work pays off,” YAN President Paige Shultz said.

Grazier said she remembers attending previous events as a child and joined YAN as soon as she entered her freshman year. This will be the third event she helped to organize.

“The Halloween event has always been super integrative and special for the younger kids because they want to be closer to the older students,” Grazier said. “It brings our community and school together, especially in times like this.”

The event is free for Tyrone students in pre-K through fourth grade and their families. Donations are encouraged. YAN Halloween organizers suggest giving $2 per person or $5 for a family. All money raised will benefit the American Red Cross, Tyrone Area Food Bank and the Panzi Hospital.

The club typically makes about $800 in donations during this event, but that amount was cut to about a tenth of that last year, McNitt said.

He hopes this year the event will do a bit better as the beneficiaries of the funds are important to the local community and beyond.

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

If you go

What: YAN Halloween 2021

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Tyrone Area High School and Elementary School property

Cost: Free for Tyrone students in pre-K through fourth grade and their families. Donations are encouraged. YAN Halloween organizers suggest giving $2 per person or $5 for a family. Proceeds benefit the American Red Cross, Tyrone Area Food Bank and the Panzi Hospital.

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