Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Math Teacher Brings His Students a Sense of Service

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Math Teacher Brings His Students a Sense of Service

Article excerpt

Five years ago, when Christopher Cooley heard of the devastating tsunami in Japan, and then the destructive tornadoes in Hempfield later that same month, he wanted to help. He organized 50 students he taught at Franklin Regional Middle School - both to volunteer at the Red Cross in Westmoreland County and to fold origami cranes to send to a company in Seattle that would then donate $1 per crane to help Japanese victims.

Discussing the volunteer sessions with his students afterward, he asked them to raise their hands if they'd participated in a service project before - and was shocked to see only one hand go up.

"They had never been able to do service work because of busy schedules," he said. "Parents are so busy filling up their kids' schedules - with academics but also with athletics."

Mr. Cooley, a math teacher, decided to create a group at the school focused on volunteer service. Called Serving Other Souls and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the group now encompasses 140 students, about 20 percent of the student body.

He is one of five finalists for Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award for the Jefferson Awards, a national prize for public service that started in 1972. Locally, the program is administered by the Post-Gazette with sponsorship from Highmark and BNY Mellon.

PG Charities will give $1,000 on behalf of Mr. Cooley to go toward Serving Other Souls.

The winner of the outstanding volunteer will be announced at an invitation-only award ceremony at the Heinz History Center on May 5. The outstanding volunteer will represent Western Pennsylvania at the national Jefferson Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Serving Other Souls, or SOS, undertakes four major volunteer projects per year.

In the fall, they collect, sort and distribute enough food for a full Thanksgiving dinner for 150 families. They transition in winter to a clothing drive, gathering enough to open a "storefront" in two shelters, allowing homeless people to pick out jackets, boots and other gear.

A new project for next year will be an "empathy bowl," in which students work with art teachers to make a ceramic bowl, which are then put up for sale. …

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