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High school teacher Deb Ottman's life skills class for this quarter decided their "Pay It Forward" project would be to host a spaghetti dinner to raise money for a schoolmate. Debbie Griffin photo

Slurp spaghetti, help a family in need

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The high school juniors and seniors taking Deb Ottman's life skills class this quarter want the community to know it's invited to a spaghetti dinner 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at United Methodist Church, 127 S. Second St.

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Adults will pay $6, children ages 5-12 eat for $4. Little ones under five years eat free.

The students plan to serve spaghetti, salad, bread, dessert, coffee and lemonade.

Ottman requires each class to plan, organize and execute a "Pay It Forward" project.

The concept, based on a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde and subsequent movie in 2000, involves doing a good deed for someone else, even strangers.

According to life skills students Bailey Draper and Kali Kramolis, this quarter's group thought of classmate Robert Gonzalez. He moved to River Falls from Brooklyn, N.Y., this year and soon after suffered a serious brain aneurysm.

After surgery, the sophomore stayed in a hospital ICU recovering for many weeks. His insurance coverage reached its limits and challenges ensued.

Draper and Kramolis said at times, his family struggled to scrape together enough gas money to drive into the Twin Cities and be by his side.

Gonzalez is back home and, based on everyone's understanding, he's headed for full recovery. Hallway rumor has it that he came to school one day recently.

Though his health outlook has improved, the family's financial challenges remain.

Some of the boy's other fellow students already raised several hundred dollars with a bake sale and a hat day. Still, the life skills classmates felt they could help, too.

So they began to brainstorm. One student's grandmother organizes benefits at UMC, giving them an "in" for a place to host a dinner.

Perkins Family Restaurant agreed to donate the noodles they'll need. The young people said they could use other donations of sauce, hamburger, breadsticks, lemonade and cookies or other desserts.

They'll provide the evening's labor and buy whatever materials don't get donated.

"I think we're gonna cook, actually," said Kramolis.

"Yeah," said Draper. "We're doing it in shifts."

Only a few people in the life skills class actually know Gonzalez or have had him in a class. But they heard of his need and wanted to reach out, to do something that helps the newcomers.

Ottman said she encouraged the students to demonstrate how great things happen in a small community.

Everyone is welcome to the Jan. 17 benefit. Anyone who knows a student in the life skills class can get tickets from them before the event, but Draper and Kramolis said advance purchase isn't required.

Entities or individuals who can offer donations should contact Ottman at the high school, 425-1830.

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