SUNY Plattsburgh students who were hoping to collect 1 million returnable cans in April probably won't make their goal.

But their shoot-for-the-moon effort has produced some very down-to-earth rewards.

The idea was conceived in Colleen Lemza's public-relations class. The associate professor received the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence last year, and it's no wonder. She's an inspiring and inspired educator, who has already made an impact by founding the Shine On! program to boost resiliency among elementary-age girls.

Her class coordinated the drive, with all proceeds to benefit Plattsburgh Housing Authority's Ted K. Center, which offers programs for at-risk youths.

As of last week, 150,000 cans had been collected, but with what is still awaiting delivery from businesses, dorms, Clinton Community College and storage units, Lemza thinks they will wind up with at least 200,000 cans.

While that is obviously well short of the million-can goal, no one involved has to feel anything but pride. The drive has been a success in so many ways.

Lemza's class was able to involve more than 50 student groups and secure cooperation from the Housing Authority, numerous businesses and, most notably, a whole community of citizens.

A couple hundred thousand cans are being recycled, with the Ted K. Center benefiting from funds and the raised awareness.

"I'm a huge believer in applied learning, and with over 30 experiential learning projects in about eight years, the Million Can Plan is by far the most ambitious one I've ever attempted with students for a community project," Lemza told the Press-Republican this week.

"Besides the learning opportunity, this project has reached into every aspect of the community."

She said they have received 100-plus emails and phone calls of support from across the North Country.

Lemza feels especially grateful to the sponsoring businesses, citing Mark Wyand at Northern Cakes, Bill Myers at Casella, Tom Spitler at Pepsi and Jeff Lafountain at TOMRA.

"Without these businesses supporting the students from the very beginning, the project never would have had the resources or credibility to get off the ground."

She also praised Plattsburgh Distributing, UFirst, Plattsburgh Housing Outlet, United Way, JCEO and, on campus, the sports teams, Project Help, Greek Life and the custodians for their roles.

The drive was scheduled to end tomorrow, but students will make one last neighborhood sweep this weekend.

Anyone who wants to help the students get as close to their goal as possible can also drop cans and bottles off at United Way, 45 Tom Miller Road; UFirst, 274 Rugar St.; or Northern Cakes, 1290 Military Turnpike and 133 Sharron Ave. Be sure to say it is for the Million Can drive.

The SUNY Plattsburgh student effort has "green" written all over it, both environmentally and financially.

And their can-do attitude will pay off for Plattsburgh.

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