SPRING HILL — When Gulf Coast Academy social studies teacher Gina DeBello greets her students for the new school year, she starts right in with her Pay It Forward class assignment.
Devin Nichols, 12, is in one of the 22-student seventh-grade classes doing the community service projects, which he described this way: "You do something for the community without expecting anything back."
Students choose their own causes to support, and Devin decided on the Hernando County Foster Association for personal reasons.
"I know one of my friends that was put in foster care," he said, "because his family was deep in (a financial) hole and couldn't take care of him. They got him back after awhile."
His friend's hardship prompted Devin to help young people in similar situations.
He has set out to raise money to start a fund for kids in foster homes to cover extracurricular activities, school uniforms, "things like that," he said.
His first planned event was a carwash last weekend at Luke's Auto Detailing (Wilkerson Auto) in Brooksville. Another event is selling hot dogs at Blockbuster's using hotdogs, buns and chips donated by the Brooksville Winn-Dixie.
He said he talked to WWJB to advertise his carwash and challenge area businesses to donate $20 to help his cause.
The assignment is about more than helping one's community.
"The teaching element of it is very important to us," said Joseph Gatti, GCA director of curriculum and instruction.
"It's an interdisciplinary project," added Nevin Siefert, GCA administrative director.
Students have to research their charities and write letters to them and any businesses from whom they solicit assistance. They have to account for their income and complete a Microsoft Publishing program. At the end they have to write a reflection paper about the extrinsic and intrinsic benefits of the projects.
"We're trying to keep the social in social studies," Gatti said.
Devin's goal is to raise $175. He's not sure he'll do it, but he said he's not going to feel bad if he doesn't. The foster association has thanked him and encouraged him. And he likes doing the project.
"I think that it's a great way to get into the community and help the community," he said, "but just helping someone makes you feel good."