To our readers: Throughout the holiday season, we will highlight the big-hearted people who give to The World-Herald's Goodfellows charity in its annual holiday campaign — many of them year after year, many of them in memory of a loved one or to celebrate an accomplishment. Today's story, on the Creighton Prep Science Club, is the first in a series highlighting our “Goodfellows Angels.” If you know of a Goodfellows donor whom we should feature, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charity begins at an almost-closet in the basement of Creighton Prep, a room stuffed with cans, paper, boxes, plastic bags and other assorted clutter, a deep laundry sink taking up one wall.
There's barely enough space for high school philanthropists to do the work their charity requires: cleaning and sorting materials to recycle for cash.
But hey, these guys are scientists. They figure it out.
Members of the Prep Science Club have donated a portion of their proceeds from recycling and other projects to The World-Herald's Goodfellows campaign each year since the early 1980s.
That 30-year commitment — perpetuated by a dedicated teacher named David Dow — makes the club the first in a series of Goodfellows Angels we'll feature during this year's fundraising campaign, which begins today.
The World-Herald administers the Goodfellows charity to help needy people in our community.
Dow started the science club two days after he joined the Prep faculty in 1977. He came from Ashland-Greenwood High School, where he taught Clayton Anderson, who would become the first astronaut from Nebraska.
From the beginning, Dow's club stressed not only education, but also fun and fundraising.
“I like the fact that we help the world. Every little bit helps,” said member Alisher Samiev, a 16-year-old sophomore.
Science Club members participate in competitions across the country and have won more than a few. They also take a major trip at the end of each year — this year, they're debating between Toronto and Vancouver. The trips always include a visit to a science-related destination that regular tourists wouldn't see, such as the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago.
Fundraising helps pay for those trips. But 10 percent of the recycling proceeds always comes off the top for three causes: 6 percent to Prep's Operation Others, 3 percent to Goodfellows and 1 percent to a charity that the club picks each year.
The rotating charity currently is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation because a club member has Type 1 diabetes. Goodfellows made the permanent cut because of articles about its work in The World-Herald.
The amounts that the club donates aren't huge. Recycling profits wax and wane.
But the club always gets its own category in the list of donors in The World-Herald, because it's sorted by amount and the Prep donation is rarely a round number, Dow said. He likes that.
The club has donated more than $1,225 to Goodfellows since it began giving.
“The Prep Science Club is a great example of what makes donating to Goodfellows such a great tradition,” said Goodfellows Executive Director Joel Long.
“It doesn't matter how much people give — big and small contributions are equally important. It's about helping our neighbors who are going through a tough time.”
When the club first began, members charged admission and showed movies from the public library in a dark basement room over lunch hours — things such as “Laurel and Hardy” and Three Stooges films.
That was popular, Dow said, but he wanted to do something to make the world better and improve the environment. Recycling was just taking off.
“I'm not sure it was even called recycling back then,” he said, smiling. At one point, only Prep and the city of Springfield in Sarpy County were collecting recyclables in the metro area.
Each club member has to work in the recycling sorting room each week to earn the chance for trips. They accept many items that other recyclers don't: glass, foil pans, Inkjet cartridges, cellphones and laptops.
They've recycled 1.3 million pounds of materials since they started.
Dow himself does much of the work. Because storage space at Prep is limited, he frequently takes the sorted materials to be recycled. He also sets up contracts with companies that turn recycled trash into such things as insulation or new plastic bags.
He's a quiet man who'd never volunteer that he was named to the Prep Hall of Fame in 2011 and has won the state Presidential Award of Excellence in Science and Mathematics and Nebraska's Christa McAuliffe Prize for teachers who show courage in education.
At 66, Dow has thought about retiring. Although he cut his teaching hours, he hasn't quit yet, partly because he's a little worried about what will happen to the club and its members if he does.
“He really is just a person who truly cares about everybody,” said Prep science department colleague Dave Stuva. “Not only is he giving back to the community, but he thinks the students he works with should be giving back to the community as well.”
The message resonates with the boys in the club. Although they joke about joining for the great trips, they also say that they've learned about camaraderie from their hours working together on recycling, and about giving from Mr. D. Several boys who showed up for a recent last-minute gathering after school said they plan careers in science and engineering.
And former club members still contribute to keep the club going, making its treasury healthy enough to heavily subsidize the year-end trips.
With all that Dow has built up — the group also takes monthly field trips closer to home and has regular business meetings — it's no wonder he's reluctant to leave the club behind.
Stuva said that he thinks someone will pick up where Dow leaves off, whenever he decides to retire, but they will clearly have a void to fill.
“He definitely will be missed,” Stuva said.