WASHINGTON — Students in Washington Community High School's IMPACT program continue to make an impact on the community.

IMPACT — an acronym for Inspire, Motivate, Pride, Achieve, Commit and Trust — was created five years ago to help at-risk students.

One tool used to get IMPACT students on track is community service, which shows them how they can make a difference in people's lives.

One project for the 15 students taking part this year was organizing a Halloween dance for special education life skills students from Washington, Deer Creek-Mackinaw, Dunlap, East Peoria and Pekin high schools. It was held in Washington's west gym.

"We had about 50 to 60 life skills students ages 15 to 22 at the dance. It was awesome," said Nick Pacelli, special education department head at Washington and creator of the IMPACT program.

"There was a deejay, our kids dressed up in costumes and danced with the life skills students, and the foods classes at our high school made cookies for the occasion," Pacelli said.

Before all that happened, $4,780 in sponsorship money was raised. About 75 percent was raised by IMPACT students through contacts with area businesses and other donations.

Pacelli said IMPACT students used some of the sponsorship money, $50 each, to buy party decorations.

IMPACT students also helped out during the school year at the Washington Helps Its People food pantry and Threads, Hope and Love ministry, not-for-profit organizations that help families in need.

Students picked up food from stores, delivered it to WHIP and sorted it. Among their jobs at Threads was to move plastic containers of clothing to and from a storage area so clients could select seasonal-appropriate clothes.

As more of a learning than community service experience, students did what Pacelli called "life interviews" with residents at an assisted living facility, talking with the senior citizens about their lives.

For the first time, seniors in IMPACT earned scholarships.

Sydney Schubert and A.J. Mason each received a $1,000 scholarship donated by Washington School Board member Brad Butler and his wife, Traci.

Each student will attend Illinois Central College. Schubert wants to be a special education teacher. Mason wants to be an emergency medical technician.

"This was the first year Sydney and A.J. were in IMPACT," Pacelli said. "They started on their career paths through IMPACT. Sydney told me she became interested in becoming a special education teacher because of the Halloween dance."

Schubert has a fond memory of one guest at the dance who was very hesitant to get on the dance floor.

"I got him to dance and he danced with me all afternoon," Schubert said.

Mason said getting a scholarship through IMPACT was meaningful.

"Joining IMPACT meant someone saw enough good in me to hand-pick me for a club that goes out and does good and volunteers to help others," he said.

Pacelli proudly points to statistics involving the four seniors in IMPACT this year.

In the eight semesters before they were in IMPACT, they failed 14 classes. In the 12 semesters after they joined IMPACT, there was only one class failure.

The seniors piled up 78 behavioral points in 12 semesters before IMPACT. They had 39 behavioral points, a 50 percent decrease, in the 12 semesters after they were in IMPACT.

Pacelli and Gina Arrenholz, an instructional assistant in the Washington special education department, have run IMPACT all five years. They'll be getting some help.

"We plan to add another teacher and instructional assistant next year," Pacelli said. "That should give IMPACT more opportunities for community involvement, and there will be more academic monitoring of IMPACT students."

Students are recommended for IMPACT by several sources "but they need to be a good fit," Pacelli said. "It isn't for everyone."

About 15 to 20 students are in IMPACT each year.

Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.