On the surface, Baker Elementary School’s All Wound Up Yo-Yo Club sounds like a quirky, fun club for fourth-graders. Scratch beneath the surface, and it’s a whole lot more.
Established by teacher Erik Wiesemann in 2012, the Yo-Yo Club meets once a week for five weeks. With 55 participants, it’s so popular among fourth-graders that three different sessions run simultaneously. This spring, the different groups met after school Mondays and before school Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“The club actually started because one of my students received a yo-yo as a gift and asked me what I could do with it. I borrowed it for a weekend, learned some tricks, and came back ready to teach the student,” Wiesemann said.
Student interest in learning to use a yo-yo was instant.
“There was a lot of additional interest once the children saw the tricks,” Wiesemann said. “It occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity for the children to make some new friends while helping others in need.”
In addition to learning impressive yo-yo tricks, the club is a great way for students to make new friends.
“The children interact with peers with whom they may not normally associate. I have seen wonderful friendships develop out of the club,” Wiesemann said. “It doesn’t matter if the children excel in academics or athletics, learning the yo-yo puts everyone on the same level.”
Another important lesson that comes out of the club is resilience. Sometimes learning a new trick or new skill doesn’t come easily.
“The children may fail at performing a trick 50 times before getting it once,” Wiesemann said. “We address and deal with the difficulties together and we encourage each other.”
In addition to learning the basic of yo-yoing, the All Wound Up Yo-Yo Club also has a goal of helping others locally and globally.
“The children in Upper St. Clair are so blessed, and there are very few opportunities for elementary school children to help others,” Wiesemann said. “The club allows them to have fun, while making a difference in the lives of those in need.”
The club hosts an annual coin drive that typically generates between $1,500 and $3,000. The Arizona-based YoYoFactory, which supplies the club’s yo-yos at cost, donates a prize basket full of trick books, yo-yos, strings, stickers and more for the classroom that donates the most money during the coin drive.
This year, the coin drive raised a record $4,179.50. Additionally, each student pays $25 for the five-week session. All money from the coin drive and registration are donated to charity.
This year’s financial recipients included Save the Children and the One Acre Fund, which were selected as a way to help people on a global level.
“It’s great for the children to realize that there is a whole world outside of Pittsburgh. The rest of the organizations help those in Pittsburgh,” Wiesemann said.
This year’s local beneficiaries included the Braddock Free Store, which provides an opportunity for people to shop for free for needed items including clothing, home items, food and other necessities all at no cost, and Feed Our Students, which offers weekend meals to students who might not otherwise eat.
In addition to a monetary contribution, students spent an afternoon packing food items for distribution through Feed Our Students.
“This group certainly resonated with the students, as they couldn’t imagine not having a meal, snacks, etc. whenever they wanted,” Wiesemann said. “We actually did a ‘pack’ for Feed Our Students. The students worked in an assembly line to put together the bagged lunches that will feed students in need.”
In total, the Baker students packed 400 bags that were distributed by Feed Our Students staff to students at three area elementary and middle schools.
Another local organization that was supported by the Yo-Yo Club this year was Blankets Over Pittsburgh, which provide blankets, tents, sleeping bags, socks, underwear, hand warmers and other necessary supplies to the homeless population in Pittsburgh. This organization goes out where individuals with the greatest needs are located.
“I have actually been helping the Blankets Over Pittsburgh organization for the last six months. During that time, I realized a need that was not being met: the need for light,” Wiesemann said.
“That is when I started the Light in my City organization. When it gets dark at night, the homeless can’t see what they’re eating, can’t read, or even have a face-to-face conversation with a friend. The lack of light can also be dangerous. Light in my City provides hand-crank/solar LED lanterns with AM/FM/Weatherband radios. Our goal is to provide light, dignity and safety to Pittsburgh’s homeless population.”
For more information about Light in my City, visit www.lightinmycity.org.