Pay It Forward Challenge started by high school seniors catches on with alumni

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The “Pay it Forward Challenge” started by seniors at Cranston High School East has spread across the state, and now alumni have started to participate.

It all started earlier this month when Cranston East seniors decided to donate a portion of their prom money to get meals for health care workers at a nursing home.

At the time, the prospect of having a prom was up in the air, so class president Genesis Aldana spoke with other class leaders about what to do.

“So we said, ‘why not give back to our community?’ That’s what we’re going to remember right now, that’s what’s important,” Aldana said during an April 9 interview with Eyewitness News.

Two weeks later, seniors at Coventry High School accepted the challenge. They used some of their class funds to purchase meals for staff at Lifespan Gateway South Shore Center in Charlestown.

Robin Melfi Coia, Cranston East’s 1980 class president, heard about the challenge from the original interview on WPRI 12. She said she was inspired by the class of 2020 and decided to take some of the money dedicated to their upcoming milestone event and pay it forward.

“As one class president to another, I couldn’t be more happy and proud of those kids,” Melfi Coia said. “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and they certainly did that.”

Melfi Coia acknowledged there were struggles back when she was in high school, but said it was nothing compared to the global pandemic of today.

“I would like to think that we would have done the same thing that these kids did,” she added.

This year, Melfi Coia and her classmates will celebrate their 40th reunion. With that in mind, she reached out to her classmates after hearing about the challenge.

“We said, ‘why don’t we take some of the money from our reunion and put it towards that?'” Melfi Coia recalled.

She said her classmates didn’t hesitate, and they decided to use some of that money to get lunch for another nursing home in Cranston.

On Wednesday, Melfi Coia and some of her classmates had a mini-reunion, though socially distant and while delivering pizza from Uncle Tony’s to about 100 staff members at Cedar Crest nursing home. The pizza shop donated to-go containers so those changing shifts could take food home.

Melfi Coia said she’s extremely proud of the Cranston East seniors for acknowledging essential employees working hard to keep people safe before and during the pandemic.

“How could we not let them know that we’re proud of them? We want to keep that message going forward,” she said.

The Cranston East class of 1980 still has a 40th reunion tentatively planned for September, according to Melfi Coia, and she said it may be the first one they’d have to cancel. However, she said she’s open to holding a virtual one if restrictions are still in place.

The class of 1980 has challenged the classes of 1978 and 1979 at Cranston East to pay it forward next.

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