Student council coffee sales in Bethel Park fund scholarships
February 28, 2013 10:45 AM
Jose Daniel, back row far left, with elementary school classmates holding a picture of Neil Armstrong Student Council in 2007, the first year the Student Council sold coffee to raise funds for scholarships in Honduras.
At the agricultural school in Honduras, students -- who live there three days a week -- learn best agricultural practices so they can return to their communities and improve coffee-growing techniques.
Jose Daniel, pictured here in ninth grade, will graduate in December from agricultural school in Suyapita, El Merendon, Honduras. His education has been supported by coffee sales conducted by the Neil Armstrong Middle School Student Council in Bethel Park.
By Margaret Smykla
The CAFE project originated when world language teacher Maria Leonard shared the organically grown Honduran coffee her mother sent her with colleagues at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Bethel Park School District.
One of them was Student Council sponsor Kristen Rylander, who thought selling the coffee would be a great community service project for the group.
That was six years ago.
In December, the project will realize its first success story with the high school graduation of a Honduran student, Jose Daniel, whose education was funded the past six years through a scholarship from student council's fundraising efforts.
The students charge $10 for 12-ounce bags of coffee grown on plantations in rural communities in the El Merendon Mountains. It is sold through a growers' co-op formed through a Roman Catholic church in Honduras.
Proceeds of their sales are divided between the student council and the scholarship fund.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 85 percent of the population living in poverty.
Last year, to help more Honduran students continue in school, Mrs. Leonard, a native of Honduras, and Ms. Rylander formed the Coffee Arabica Foundation for Education, CAFE.
Its mission is to prevent youth delinquency and violence in Honduras through education and job training.
The nonprofit CAFE purchases the coffee and sells it to the students for their fundraising efforts.
"We are just selling to Student Council at this time to create a business model before we approach other groups, like churches and schools," Mrs. Leonard, of South Park, said.
CAFE currently provides seven scholarships to Honduran students in grades 7 through 12: One scholarship is from the student council; two are from the sale of coffee to the student council; and four are from cash donations.
Recipients are all from farming families in the same region where the coffee is grown. That benefits the communities in two ways: The scholarships help educate the children, and the coffee purchases help stimulate the local economy.
The program receives 15 to 20 applications a year, kicking off a "very, very painful" selections process, Mrs. Leonard said, as all students need and want help.
In Honduras, the government only provides free education in rural areas through sixth grade. If students want to continue schooling, their parents must pay tuition, which is $400 a year for grades 7 to 9.
Students in grades 10 to 12 attend an agricultural high school, where they must room three days a week, raising the total cost to $782 a year.
"They are learning the best practices for growing so they can go back to their families and help grow their crops better," Ms. Rylander, of Carnegie, said.
Student Council members benefit as well, as Sara Bucci, 12, Theresa Stolpa, 10, and Alyssa Arnold, 10, said they discovered they like helping needy peers in other countries.
This summer, Mrs. Leonard plans to travel to Honduras to see family and visit the coffee growers.
" 'You are the first group that has come to this community to help,' they told me the first time I came," she said.
Mrs. Leonard said CAFE is a group effort, from a volunteer accountant and graphic designer, to the pro bono work of the Duquesne University Law Clinic, to the students of Emily Smoller, a Bethel Park High School marketing teacher and CAFE board member, who markets the coffee.
"It has been amazing, the number of people who have helped us. We want all donations to go straight to the kids," she said.