Fall project at Pacific University still rippling out into world

by: COURTESY PHOTO: CHRISTIAN COTUNA - Pacific student Christian Cotuna took pictures for businesses such as Urban Decanter and donated the money he earned to Heifer International to buy a Flock of Hope and two irrigation pumps.When Pacific University Professor Ramona Ilea handed her students a $10 bill and told them to make change, she wasn’t talking about two $5 bills.

She was talking about changing the world.

“It’s easy to say ‘I don’t have the time or energy,’ but when it’s an assignment, you just have to step up and do it,” said Christian Cotuna, a Pacific student who secured two water irrigation pumps and a flock of poultry for two impoverished villages, thanks to an assignment from Ilea — and the Forest Grove community that surprised him with support.

In the fall, Cotuna started his first year at Pacific, where all freshman take a First Year Seminar (FYS) class. Ilea gave each student $10 to do something good — the ‘how’ was up to them.

“Everybody comes up with different interpretations of the project,” Ilea said. “And most get more invested than the assignment requires.”

Cotuna, who grew up in the Forest Grove area and attended Faith Bible High School in Hillsboro, asked local businesses at a Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce Luncheon to hire him as a photographer. by: COURTESY PHOTO: CHRISTIAN COTUNA - Cotuna said he believes if he has been given a gift, its his duty to use it to give back. Urban Decanter's Becky Kramer paid $40 for her photos and used them on her Facebook and website.

Cotuna was hired by Urban Decanter, Jeanine Murrell Insurance Agency, Dairy Creek Community Food Web and Jennings McCall. He also received several anonymous donations.

With the $360 he raised, including the $10 from Pacific he threw into the pot, Cotuna was able to give the two irrigation pumps and poultry flock through Heifer International, an organization that works in more than 30 countries across the globe to end poverty and hunger through education and agricultural infrastructure.

A $150 gift can purchase and install a treadle pump along with training in water conservation and irrigation techniques, so farmers have enough water to sustain crops. The pumps are cheaper than using motorized pumps and more efficient than hauling buckets.

The “Flock of Hope” Cotuna bought sent chicks, ducks or goslings to a family, depending on the climate and needs of the region. Families receiving birds also receive training on poultry care and feeding techniques. Eggs provide food and can be sold at markets, while the manure fertilizes crops. Each family that receives a gift of animals passes the first female offspring along to another family.

The assignment “makes them care about something,” Ilea said. “It connects them to people.”

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Heifer International provides families across the world with poultry, cattle, goats, honey bees and other animals through donations. One student partnered with the youth group he works with to purchase several small items, which they traded up for more expensive ones they plan to sell for charity (see sidebar).

Another student spent $10 on supplies to make friendship bracelets and sold them, raising almost $100 to give to his neighbor, who has cancer.

Another student went door-to-door in Forest Grove, offering “scratch-its,” through which participants found out how much they would donate after scratching off the surface. This project raised $304 to go to Pacific’s Navajo Service Learning trip that sends Pacific students to Arizona every January to help a Navajo tribe.

A few students made gift bags for the homeless and handed them out in Portland.

“It was all up to us,” Cotuna said. “Professor Ilea is a pretty amazing, awesome person. She made us stand up for and define our viewpoints and care for people.”

Cotuna was surprised how eager people were to help. “Honestly, I think some of the businesses could have lived without the photos, but they wanted to help,” he said.

“I’m familiar with the Heifer program and I liked the idea that he was willing to use his talents to help other people,” Jeannine Murrell said. “I liked the idea that as a student he was thinking about the greater good rather than ‘what’s in it for me.’”

“You assume when you start out that it’s going to be impossible or too much work, but an idea can grow into something pretty impactful when you take a risk and do something you normally wouldn’t do,” Cotuna said. “It helps to change lives — the value of the project is pretty amazing.”

The magic of trading up

Ferguson's Bahai'i youth groups meet regularly to plan  service projects and do fun, recreational things, too. Aaron Ferguson quickly learned the magic of “trading up,” a new social game that depends on door-to-door footwork and generous neighbors.

“The first time I did this I started with a bag of Skittles and ended up with a piano,” Ferguson said. He traded the Skittles for a large red pencil, the pencil for a book, and so on until he found himself with a BBQ grilling set and finally — several trades later — a piano.

When his First Year Seminar professor at Pacific University, Ramona Ilea, gave her students $10 each to do good in the world, Ferguson decided to work with a youth group he’d formed at his low-income apartment building in Tigard.

He used the $10 to buy a baseball, mug, stapler and alarm clock, then went door to door with the youth to “trade up.”

They ended up with sports equipment, a love seat, lamps and a table, all of which they plan to sell at a garage sale, then donate the funds to charity. They also received something they’d long wanted: a guitar, which the donor insisted they keep to use at their weekly meetings.

“People were so happy to see there were kids in the neighborhood doing positive, good things, they just wanted to donate,” Ferguson said.

His youth groups are inspired by Baha’i, a monotheistic religion that focuses on prayer, reflection and service to humanity.

The goal is not to convert people, Ferguson said, but instead to inspire young people to take hold of the direction their community is going.

“We’re focused on what we can do to help the world, to channel energy toward a positive endeavor,” Ferguson said. “I think everyone has the desire to help other people, but some just don’t know how. This provided an opportunity to do it.”

Most of the children in Ferguson’s Tigard group are Catholic and go to a nearby church, he said.

Several of their parents work multiple jobs and odd hours and many are immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, he said.

“Generally people were very very nice and even the ones who had nothing to trade offered us support in words. Many were sort of confused about why a large group of young people were at their door, but most were very happy to see youth doing a service project for the good of the neighborhood.”

Ferguson’s 20 youth — aged 4 to 18 — split up into three groups and took on different parts of their neighborhood over two days.

The kids started out almost too shy to knock on strangers’ doors, he said, but by the end they were running door to door.

One elderly woman initially yelled at the children as they ran noisily past her apartment door. When the kids stopped to explain what they were doing, her opinion of them changed, Ferguson said. She ended up throwing a party for them with food she made and games she set up.

“It was really sweet to see her get involved,” said Ferguson, who has also started a Baha’i youth group in Forest Grove, where about 10 regulars meet for food, activity, reflection and service projects.

“The difference you can make with $10 is amazing when you put in effort and use your creativity,” he said.

“What’s the best thing I can do day-to-day that makes life better for everybody? Through this project, I’ve realized people have more power and capabilities than they realize.”

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