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Chicago students make trip to help Morgantown nonprofits


To those who live in Morgantown, this may seem like an odd choice for a high school club from out of state to visit — but a group of students from Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago recently did just that.

Student organizer Ava Bartkus and teacher sponsor Karen Trine said their community service club had been looking for an opportunity to travel to help. Bartkus had a contact at Coalfield Development and used it to discover opportunities to help here in Morgantown.

“I thought it would be a really good opportunity for a lot of kids who have never been outside of Chicago to do service in a state that is not familiar to them,” Bartkus said.

While here, the group of 25 students and three teachers spent time at Pantry Plus More, Libera and Christian Help. At Pantry Plus More, the students helped box up food for distribution and also created some fun items for families to share. When the group was with Libera, members attended a workshop explaining the struggles of women in West Virginia, while encouraging the students to connect with their own story to find a more liberating future. At Christian Help, the students helped clean the building, organize documents and aid in fundraising work.

Despite the enthusiastic support of their principal, Rickey Harris, making the trip to West Virginia wasn’t cheap. The students were able to make it accessible by fundraising and applying for a grant that covered the bulk of their expenses, leaving each student with only a $30 fee to make the trip.

“I kind of went into this with the conception that service is a privilege,” Bartkus said. “I wanted all of the kids to be able to go on this trip despite socioeconomic status.” The students sold popcorn, allowing members to raise $3,700 for their initial budget. They also sold gently used clothes to help cover the cost.

When asked about the school’s involvement, Trine said, “Our high school draws from all over the city. Ava took the lead, and her friends who are in the club have really done everything. We’re more of a support than a lead role in this whole trip. Our school is very fortunate to have such wonderful students that we feel very hopeful for the future because they come up with great ideas like this on a regular basis.”

The students were impressed with how kind people were here in Morgantown, Bartkus said.

“Our students are around urban areas all the time,” she said. “Coming here we got to see a lot of nature. We went to Coopers Rock, that was amazing. We also noticed the whole time we were here, everyone has been so kind. We had a couple of troubles on our first day here. We called someone from Libera, and she immediately helped us with everything. I think it was really nice for our students to see how nice someone from outside of Chicago can be.”

Find out how to help these local organizations yourself by visiting their websites at,, and