On May 20, 2013 a tragedy occurred in Oklahoma that shattered an entire community. An EF5 tornado with winds up to 300 miles per hour ripped through the town of Moore, Okla., taking the lives of 24 people and injuring several hundred. Among the losses was 9-year-old Sydney Angle, who went to school that day at Plaza Towers Elementary and never returned home.
With plans to pay for school tornado shelters in gridlock at the Oklahoma state Capitol, a Penn State Brandywine class is going above and beyond typical classroom activities by teaming up with Shelter Oklahoma Schools, an organization created to provide storm shelters in and around Oklahoma schools.
A friend of the Angle family, Brandywine Instructor in Communications Karrie Bowen has dedicated her entire Communications 471 class to creating a "public relations firm" that will develop a large-scale fundraising event.
"We are going to be donating money to Shelter Oklahoma Schools and that money will be in honor of Sydney Angle," Bowen said.
Given Angle's love for softball and Brandywine's far-off distance from Moore, Okla., the student-run public relations organization has taken the name Angles in the Outfield.
"Everything the class does from here on out is focused on this fundraiser. They're very, very dedicated," Bowen said about her students. "Most of the students are seniors and they're really applying everything that they've learned for this project."
Sydney Angle's family stands in the empty lot where their house once stood. (left to right: Sydney's father Dan, sister Casey, mother Nicole and brother Jory) Photo: Misty Cate Photography
Bowen's public relations class is one of two classes named as the Rosenberg Civic Engagement Course for the spring 2014 semester. This designation requires the course to go above-and-beyond standard campus civic engagement, focusing on citizenship, leadership and scholarship.
Students in Communications 471: Front Row: Irene Matos, Amanda Rasley, Amanda Congialdi, Tori Marotta, Marissa Malin
Back Row: Matt Trotta, Will Calligan (sitting), Ashley Piroeff, RJ Karwoski, Kate LaClair, Josh Domsohn, Nancy Watson, Anthony Olivastro, and Kevin Shishko. Not pictured, Amanda Springer.
The group of 16 students is currently preparing for the fundraising event, which will be held at Penn State Brandywine on May 3, as part of Middletown Township's Community Day festivities. Angles in the Outfield is creating news releases, graphic design elements, social media websites, pitch letters, brochures and flyers as well as working to secure corporate and private donors for the cause.
Junior corporate communications major Irene Matos said, "I think I can speak for my class when I say we were all moved by this story and we just want to make a difference in the lives of children now and for the future children of Oklahoma."
"When we first heard the story everyone felt really emotional and we instantly became passionate about it," added senior corporate communications major Ashley Piroeff. "It could be anyone's child. It really touched us."
Leading up to the event, Angles in the Outfield will host smaller fundraising efforts as well as create education and outreach material that communicates the importance of having shelters in and around schools.
"When you have a friend who loses their child that way, you want her time here to have had purpose. And Sydney had wonderful purpose," Bowen said. "It's about making sure this doesn't happen to more kids."