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Published: Wednesday, 1/23/2013

Student spends rainy night in cardboard box for class assignment, inspired to help others

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Home Depot's Keith Young, left, and John Smith present Perrysburg Junior High School student Michael Skotynsky with a plaque for his part in writing a letter asking the home improvement store to donate tarps to the Cherry Street Mission. Home Depot's Keith Young, left, and John Smith present Perrysburg Junior High School student Michael Skotynsky with a plaque for his part in writing a letter asking the home improvement store to donate tarps to the Cherry Street Mission.
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It took Michael Skotynsky just one soggy night spent outside in a rain-soaked, makeshift shelter to inspire him to help the region’s homeless.

The Perrysburg Junior High School seventh grader slept outdoors in moving boxes for a social studies assignment on diversity. The class project was intended to expose students to another culture or give them a glimpse of what it might be like to have a disability or no warm bed.

Michael, 12, turned his experience into a chance to help others when his letter to Home Depot requesting help for the homeless resulted in the company’s donation today of store vouchers and tarps to the Cherry Street Mission.

Though Jan. 12 approached 60 degrees during the day, Michael said an overnight rainfall made the experience “miserable.”

“I got to sleep a little bit, but once I heard it start raining it woke me up instantly,” Michael said.

He readjusted his boxes, which he set up on a cement patio outside his Perrysburg home, but in the morning the rain had stained the cardboard dark brown and some water had seeped inside.

The next morning Michael and his mom talked about what it was like to spend the night as a homeless person might.

“His big concern was that his box was trashed from the rain, and he’s like, ‘What do these people do? Do they spend the whole next day trying to find a box?’” said his mother Lea Skotynsky said.

Michael said he and his mom came up with the idea to write to someone who might be able to donate protective tarps. Michael wrote a letter to the Home Depot in Rossford. His simple, eight-sentence request asked the store to consider giving tarps to the Cherry Street Mission, a Toledo charity that serves the poor and homeless.

Today, representatives of Home Depot surprised Michael and his class when they presented to the mission seven tarps, with a retail price of around $10 each, and $175 in vouchers to purchase store goods. Keith Young, assistant store manager in Rossford, said his mouth dropped when he read Michael’s letter.

“... (T)o think outside the box like that is awesome,” said Mr. Young, of the boy’s efforts.

Mr. Young told the class the donation is an example of how “one letter, one person can make a difference.” The Home Depot representatives also gave Michael a plaque, an award it gives to employees who excel, and a gift card to a video game retailer.

Michael’s parents Lea and Matt Skotynsky crouched down in the corner of social studies teacher Bill Hilt’s classroom in an attempt to keep Tuesday’s donation a secret until the big moment. Michael said the donation was indeed a surprise.

Roz Goodwin, the mission’s director of stewardship services, said the donations will go to good use. Monday night, the mission provided shelter for 250 men and women.

“It’s amazing to see a young man of his age develop such an amazing heart of compassion just with a small experience like that,” she said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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