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Stuffing for STEM

Girl organizes plush animal fundraiser to pay for educational program

Nine-year-old Serenity Guzman of Leland says her dream job is “to build robots to help the world.”

When she was nominated by her third-grade teacher at Marquette Academy in Ottawa for a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] program at Loyola University in Chicago, Guzman was excited to go. Her family, although also excited, worried about the program’s $1,600 tuition.

But instead of letting the program’s cost interfere with her daughter’s love of STEM topics, Serenity’s mother, Krystal Guzman, turned fundraising into an educational venture.

Serenity Guzman has been doing all of her own fundraising, including making and selling pillowcases and hosting stuff-your-own plush animal events to pay for the program’s tuition. Guzman’s handmade pillowcases can be ordered for $10 each or $15 if the fabric features a licensed character and a plush animal workshop party can be held by calling 815-250-4599.

“I wanted to teach her that you have to work for things, that everything is not always handed to you,” Krystal Guzman said. “She should not be afraid to earn what she really wants. She has been doing everything herself. She picked out the fabric for each pillowcase and pinned and sewed each one. She really wanted to go to the program, and she’s been working for it for months.”

In June, Guzman attended the five-day National Youth Leadership Forum’s Pathways to STEM program.

The $1,600 tuition has been divided into monthly payments, and Guzman still owes $420.

While at the program, Guzman took part in hands-on STEM simulations and workshops and learned how to build robots, diagnose circulatory system and heart problems, and use forensic science for crime scene investigating.

She commuted into Chicago each day, leaving home at 5:30 a.m. and returning home around 8:30 p.m. each day.

“I love robots and I liked working and communicating with others to build a robot,” Serenity Guzman said. “We also learned about how the heart works and dissected a cow’s heart. I liked how the program was educational, yet fun at the same time.”

On July 4, Guzman held a teddy bear workshop at Leland School, where children could hand-stuff plush animals, name them and receive a birth certificate for $16.

Guzman also sold 50/50 tickets for a Leland Panther mascot plush animal, with proceeds from the raffle benefiting the Leland School library.

Michelle Schultz’s two children, Allyson, 8, and Noah, 10, each stuffed a plush animal to help cover Guzman’s program tuition. Allyson chose to create a rainbow dog and Noah made a camouflage bear.

“We’ve never done anything like it before,” said Schultz of Leland.

“I like how they can pick out different designs and stuff it themselves. It’s definitely something different. It’s creative and a great idea to raise money.”

Krystal Guzman said her daughter already is looking forward to raising money and attending next year’s STEM program.

“Serenity’s teacher saw something in her, a love for science and math, and it’s important to encourage that,” Krystal Guzman said.

“I see this program as a stepping stone for her. It helps her find her interests and can help her along her path as an adult. She’s already asking about getting an mBot, the kind of robot she learned how to build and program. She wants to go back to the program next year and every year because it was so much fun.”

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