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Students' toy drive in Beaverton brightens lives of children battling cancer

Third graders at Beaverton's Findley Elementary School are helping make spirits bright for children battling cancer.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Holly Petersen of the Children's Cancer Association helps load toys donated from students at Findley Elementary.Led by third grade teacher Zack Potocki, students participated in a toy drive for the Children's Cancer Association of Portland. Together, Findley students collected close to 100 toys, games and gift cards that were collected by the Portland-based nonprofit Friday, Dec. 13.

"It's super important that you guys are thinking about kids that aren't feeling well," Jenny O'Bryan, senior vice president of development for the cancer association, told a room full of young students. "You guys have done a tremendous job. We're all about bringing joy to kids who don't feel very good."

This year wasn't the first for the toy drive, but it was the largest, Potocki said. The elementary teacher said the inspiration for the charitable project came from a former student of his.

"Several years ago I had a student named Victoria who recently passed away from cancer," Potocki said. "I also had her younger sister in my class later. When I heard the news that she wasn't doing so well, I thought 'Man, what can I do?' and there's not a lot we can do beyond what we're doing currently.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Zack Potocki helped spearhead the toy drive at Findley Elementary."Obviously I'm a teacher and I have a heart to serve kids. I cannot imagine what those families are going through."

Potocki said the third graders were encouraged to do household chores to earn the toys, or think of other ways to work off the money used to buy donated items.

Some donated their own money they had received for birthdays, while others recycled cans or donated unused toys of their own.

"I raked the leaves with my dad," said Rachel Ballou, 9.

Ballou was able to purchase the game Connect Four for the toy drive.

For 8-year-old Mila Fusselman, the mission hit close to home.

"I had cancer. I got lots of presents from my friends and family and it made me feel better," Fusselman said. She was diagnosed in kindergarten.

The goal of the drive? To help enrich the lives of sick children, while instilling important values in others.

"We wanted them to be active participants in this," Potocki explained of the young students who participated. "Their job was to go home and ask if they could take on extra chores at home to earn the money. They really have ownership in this. It really was the fruits of their labor."

The Children's Cancer Association representatives said the toys will be used for the organization's chemo pal mentor program, which provides toys and games for children to enjoy while they undergo cancer treatments.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Findley Elementary students who donated toys to the Children's Cancer Association pose for a group photo.As three different classes gathered in a room to learn about the program they were helping to support, Potocki reminded the young students of the impact they had made.

"The thing I really hope you take away from this is, you guys have the power at 7, 8, 9 years old to make a difference," he told the kids.

"I tell the kids how awesome it is and empowering it is that they can be a hero in this community."

School has history of giving back

Findley Elementary is a Primary Years Programme school, similar to an International Baccalaureate program offered at higher grade levels in the district.

Teachers and staff say part of the curriculum is developing young people to think about larger issues, and to think about others.

"We're a PYP school, so part of our mission is to inspire kids to take action," Findley Principal Sherry Marsh said. "This is a great example of kids taking action and doing something great."

Potocki isn't the first, and certainly not the only teacher, to head up a charitable or service-based project. He said a colleague, Terri Buckley, often organized service projects to help feed the needy.

"When I first got here, she made pumpkin bread for the homeless," Potocki recalled. "She opened my eyes to the fact that we can use our classes for the greater good."

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