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PILOT seniors focus on benefiting others, environment

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Oct 14, 2020

Angela Kerr, far left, performs in "Middle School Crohnies" with Sydney LeBlanc and Kaylynn Sabella. PHOTO PROVIDED BY NICHOLE PINCHON


Because middle school and high school students are required to complete a number of community service hours per year, Pine Island Leaders of Tomorrow (PILOT) mentor Nichole Pinchon encourages her students to focus on the things that will benefit others and the environment.

“When they get into high school, I really push for the kids to work as partners or by themselves to create a project,” said Pinchon.

This year, Pinchon and her husband, Paul, who runs the PILOT program with her, have four seniors, each of whom will leave behind their working project for future PILOT students. These original projects not only benefit the island in various ways, but go a long way toward helping partakers of the program to gain an understanding of what it is to leave their mark by having created something that carries on long after they’ve set sail for their life as adults.

Kaylee Proulx began “Keep Pine Island Beautiful” when she was in the 6th grade. A project that grew from a tradition of collecting litter around the island she had begun as a means of spending time with her father.

Pinchon said Proulx was excited that the PILOT program incorporates regular litter pickup as often as possible.

“We go around for about an hour at a time,” said Pinchon. “The kids form little groups and we give them bags and gloves.”

She explained that this project has become a beloved tradition, sometimes encouraging a competition for the teams to find the most refuse or end up with the heaviest bag.

“We still do it to this day,” said Pinchon, who added she’s still planning on being able to do this project with social distancing in place.

Lilly Overbaugh began “All Fur Paws,” which benefits Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary in St. James City.

“She really loves animals,” said Pinchon, “so she wanted to do something to help the sanctuary.”

Having had a teacher who volunteered her own time at Helping Paws went a long way toward helping Overbaugh to create All Fur Paws for her individual project. After contacting her teacher, Overbaugh asked if PILOT could make helping with the animals a group task.

In addition to bringing PILOT students to Helping Paws, Overbaugh began purchasing materials needed to make jewelry, which was sold to raise money that would benefit the sanctuary further.

Angela Kerr began working with Pinchon at the Pine Island Playhouse when she was only in the 5th grade. Fittingly, her project involved partnering with the Playhouse in creating the aptly named “Student Series.” The project involves high school students choosing plays, and directing them.

“She actually just did an assignment in school for bullying prevention where she utilized Student Series and got 100 percent,” said Pinchon, who explained when Kerr set her sights on the Student Series project she applied for a grant through Disney Friends for Change, and was awarded a $500 grant to start the program.

“We used the grant money to put on her first show called, ‘Eat — it’s not about Food,'” said Pinchon of the play, which focuses on eating disorders.

Kerr, who’s done four Student Series plays to date, will graduate high school having obtained an associates degree.

Gary Dowd is an avid gamer and has been encouraged by the Pinchons to pursue the creation of Pine Island Opoly, a game which can be utilized by personalizing your particular city in the game of Monoply created by Hasbro. This project, Pinchon said, will likely be adopted by PILOT as a whole, which she explained, generally happens anyway.

“We don’t want these projects to die,” said Pinchon. “It’s great that the kids came up with them and that they’ve been so successful. They’re neat kids and it’s amazing to me how much time they’ve dedicated. These four kids have done 713 hours in the past three years.”

With all the time, energy and direction that goes into mentoring these kids, Pinchon admits there is an expected accountability on the parts of the kids who partake of the program. In training them to be the leaders of tomorrow, they must learn to be reliable now, Pinchon said.

“If they leave the program without a reason or explanation,” Pinchon said, “I tell them, you get nothing from me. I’m not going to write you letters of recommendation. You cannot use me as a reference, and I will not submit community service records for you. If they came back and explained why they left or wrote a letter, I would take them back in a second.

“Sometimes it’s pretty hard to believe how amazing these kids are,” said Pinchon. “They’re leaving behind a legacy. They’ve started things that will continue to be important on the island. I love these kids — they’re so dedicated, caring and kind. They’re hard workers. It’s easy for me to sit down with them for three hours and work on college applications because … they’re just cool kids.”