MEDINA — Nine years ago, Michelle Powell decided she wanted to make a difference.
The lifelong Medina resident grew up one of five children to a single mother, and said that as a child, it was a city after-school program that kept her out of trouble while her mother worked and cared for her family.
So she started the Let’s Make a Difference program, a group that has now grown to about 50 underprivileged children aged preschool to teen that meets every Tuesday and Thursday at Ray Mellert park on Huntington Street.
On Saturday afternoon, the group held a Candy Land Carnival fundraiser, asking for a $1 donation to enter the event. The children of Let’s Make a Difference made candy decorations using recycled materials, just one way Powell cuts costs for the program, which relies completely on donations and about 25 volunteers.
The volunteers help the children not only with academics, but also with life lessons they might not receive at home or school, Powell said. Among the lessons, they are taught are how to respond to an adult, be polite and “make eye contact — I’m trying to teach them to have confidence,” Powell said.
“This year, we talked a lot about poverty and what it means to be poor,” she said. “To my kids, that’s the norm. They don’t know any different. So I try to teach them not to accept handouts, to work hard.”
Covered in chocolate from a chocolate fountain and blowing up a yellow balloon, 5-year-old Jamkar Barsic of Medina, remembered one of Powell’s most important lessons: to say “I’m special” in the mirror every morning after he washes his face.
“I try to tell them that it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor or what kind of car you drive here in, you’re just as important as everybody else, you’re somebody,” she said.
Eventually, Powell would like to see Let’s Make a Difference move to a larger facility and meet five days a week.
“If we had more time with the kids they would learn so much more,” she said.
Powell said she often relies on divine inspiration when she devises lessons and comes up with ideas for running the program.
“I am constantly in prayer,” she said.
Of course, she also draws from her childhood experiences.
When Powell was in school, she was a special education student, where “people tell you you’ll never make it.”
“You told the wrong person that,” she said. “I got a 3.5 GPA in college and I made it.”
Now, a year away from Let’s Make a Difference’s 10-year anniversary, Powell said she wants to give children in situations similar to hers the knowledge and skills to “make it” too.
“They say those who live in poverty come from poverty,” she said. “Well, who wrote that book?”
Information on the Let’s Make a Difference program can be found by contacting Powell at (330) 321-9947 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or email@example.com.