Photo by first-grade student Natalie DeFonzo

There’s a little extra help at Marion-Walker Elementary School with student ambassadors who are responsible for many building duties, in addition to annually organizing a community service project.

Last year, the group spearheaded a donation drive to support Operation Gratitude with a mission to collect specific items for members of the military serving overseas and the families of first responders. This school year, they’re holding a fundraiser from Jan. 21 to Feb. 28 for Centre County PAWS – a Centre Region-based animal shelter that houses dogs and cats.

“A lot of people know about PAWS, but maybe don’t do anything, so this raises more awareness about what needs to be done,” fifth-grade student Aalyn Cernuska said about the importance of giving back to PAWS. “Plus, combining little kids and adorable dogs is the cutest thing ever.”

The 12-member group met to discuss details of the campaign during a before-school meeting on Nov. 8, along with staff advisers, fifth-grade teacher Colleen DeFonzo and reading intervention teacher Katy Haagen. They meet again in December.

DeFonzo said the advisers facilitate the meetings and initiatives, but leave the rest in the hands of the students, who also make school event and activity posters, help with a variety of responsibilities around school, conduct morning announcements and more.

“It’s really a multifaceted thing where they’re helping out younger students and helping out around the building, and then trying to do something bigger,” she said.

Only open to fifth-grade students, DeFonzo said those kids are eligible to apply for an ambassador position at the end of their fourth-grade year. Applications are narrowed down and an interview process is conducted with the students before the final group is selected.