Price trades bottles, cans for cash for JHS students

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer
Barbi Price collects bottles and recycles them to collect the five-cent refund that New York requires as incentive for recycling. The money she earns benefits a college scholarship fund for the top English student at Jamestown High School.

Barbi Price, a docent at Chautauqua Institution’s art galleries, has a trunkful of bottles and cans. Sometimes, bags of bottles sit waiting for Price in her driveway when she gets home at night. The bags often come with little notes, saying things like “Here’s a few to help out.”

During the off-season, Price heads the English department at Jamestown High School, which includes the job of awarding a senior student with top English honors. While other departments in the school provide small scholarships with their awards, the English department had no funds for a scholarship of its own.

“[Price], God bless her, really rolled up her sleeves,” said Cindy Peters, a fellow Chautauquan who works as an attorney in Jamestown, N.Y., during the off-season. “She said, ‘We need to find a way to get this money.’ ”

Peters met Price several years ago through mutual friends on the grounds. Last year, when Price came up with the idea to return recyclables for the 5-cent refund that the state of New York offers, Peters was one of the first friends to drop off bags of bottles. She said she was happy to help out Price, who is not only a friend, but also a highly regarded teacher and community member.

“All students come away from [Price] amazingly enriched,” Peters said, “and they love her.”

Price also collected cans and bottles from the students and faculty at Jamestown High School. She had a cardboard box outside her classroom and “anywhere else thirsty people might be,” like the cafeteria and the gym. She hauled all her loot to the 5-cent return machine at her local Tops and fed recyclables into it until she came away with a $500 scholarship for the school’s top English student of 2013.

For the upcoming school year, Price has come up with a way to raise even more money for an English scholarship: She spent her summer encouraging Chautauquans to give her their bottles and cans, and she rode around the grounds on her bicycle to collect them.  Price also started collecting bottles and cans from Fowler-Kellogg Art Center’s outdoor cafe and the coffee shop at Webb’s, located just a few miles from the grounds.

“It occurred to me that my Chautauquan friends would be a fabulous source,” Price said, “and I bet … would want to [help] local students who are going off to college and who could use a little bit of money for their books.”

Peters noted that although Jamestown High School has many exceptional students, the district has a high proportion of financially underprivileged students who sometimes forgo college because of its cost.

“If I ever retire from my job, I’m going to have a second career picking up bottles and cans for student scholarships,” Price said. “I’m going to be … ‘that woman on the side of the road,’ because now every time I see [a bottle or can], I think, ‘Oh my God, there’s a nickel.’ ”