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Keene High School Interact students Antonio DiSilva, 15, of Chesterfield, Ethan Bettinger, 17, of Keene, Nathan Cleveland, 16, of Westmoreland, Sean Philbrick, 17, of Stoddard and Bryant Johnson, 17, of Chesterfield shop for clothes for an 8-year-old girl on their Christmas list at JCPenney in Keene on Saturday. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

Awarded $5,000, Keene teens give it away

KEENE - When the Keene High School Interact Club was awarded $5,000 by the Keene Pumpkin Festival through the Discover Card Challenge, the teens turned around and donated it to the school's React Club.

As they spoke of being awarded the money, words like "awesome" and "cool" came flying out of their mouths Saurday as they Christmas shopped at J.C. Penney and Target for local families and children.

Interact member Ayla Cordell, 15, of Chesterfield said, "We're all about service above self, and like the first thing we did was donate it."

A group of Interact boys navigating clothes shopping for an 8-year-old girl on their list said they spent 11 hours volunteering at this year's pumpkin festival.

"It's really cool to know how we were recognized on a larger scale," said Ethan Bettinger, 17, of Keene.

"Our hard work paid off," said Sean Philbrick, 17, of Stoddard.

"That's the moral of the story," said Nathan Cleveland, 16, of Westmoreland.

Club adviser Doug Mealey, who oversees the teen counterpart of the Rotary Club, said they were taken aback by the award. The group spends its time volunteering and fundraising, not looking for awards, he said. "This is taking us out of our comfort zone."

For the past six years, Keene Interact has raised more than $50,000 a year.

The React Club works to support and integrate disabled students into the mainstream of the school, Mealey said.

"We are so excited the money is going to React," said Interact member Becky Lebeaux, 16, of Keene

Interact members spend time with the React Club, but first go through training to be more sensitive, Mealey said. "First we get our kids to understand what it's like to be handicapped."

The money they raise goes to many different causes from helping local individuals with needs, to building homes in El Salvador each February.

"Today we are shopping for some families in Keene and Nelson, and we're just buying presents for them," Lebeaux said Saturday. "And we also have some kids on the side, which we are buying just presents or clothing or whatever else they need."

The popular club, which caps its size at 100 members, has a waiting list of 300 students, Mealey said.

"It's just a great opportunity, you know, to help the community cause its hard by yourself. But Interact gives you great opportunities to do this stuff," 16-year-old Ivy Pepin of Keene said while shopping at J.C. Penney.

Let It Shine Inc., which organizes the annual pumpkin festival, last week announced how it would split the $29,381 it won for education. Keene State College and Wheelock School also both received $5,000 from the award.

Discover Card donated money that matched the number of carved, lighted pumpkins at the festival this year.

mpierce@newstote.com

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