The digital age has brought the globe together and made needs in one part of the country or world more real to children and adults living elsewhere. Students are inspired by those among them, as well.
When David Jal was a little boy, he was kidnapped and forced to fight in the war tearing through his native Sudan. Eventually, he ended up among refugees resettled in Sioux Falls, S.D. He recently visited school children in nearby Avon, where they had been collecting money for his dream of building a Christian school in his homeland, according to reports in The Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan.
The classes at one South Dakota school wage "Penny Wars." They battle with cash for bragging rights. But they also benefit an area children's hospital. The combatants get points for pennies and lose points for other coins, so they seed other classes' bins with larger coins. A quarter costs that other class 25 points and the total builds.
Students at Bexley Middle School in Columbus, Ohio, have been collecting peanut butter for their local food pantry. AP calculus classes at Bexley High School adopt families. ThisWeek Community News said even the kindergarten kids gathered their still-nice plastic toys to give to Second Chance Toys for distribution to kids who often do without.
Troop 601 helps a food drive, too. This year, said Sherri Hutten, whose daughter Olivia is in the troop, they planned to skip it due to a scheduling conflict. "The kids felt so bad that we did it, too. The benefit is so worth it. I underestimate them sometimes. I'll try to micromanage and it gets out of my control — and more creative and fun."
West High School is gearing up for its annual "$10,000 in 10 minutes" drive to bolster funding for its Family Resource Center. The first year, it was $5,000 in five minutes, said counselor Josie Wankier. They exceeded that by quite a margin. The prize is early release the Friday before Christmas.
It's not the motivator. The kids know the money helps defray costs for a small medical clinic at the school for students and their families who don't have access to health care, that it provides coats and shoes and eye care, among other needs in a tight community that includes classmates and their families, Wankier said.
They also help the Jewish Community Center with a big project to provide items like clothing and shoes to refugees and other needy families, including the elderly. Students swarm in to decorate and pack boxes and have the option of helping the JCC deliver them, said Valerie Gates, English Language Learner program coordinator and teacher.
"What's really cool is we have a big range of kids who participate," Gates said, including refugees who pack boxes for other families in their situation. Students who came to West years before as refugees come back to help because they remember what it was like to get those boxes.
Students' giving is not just seasonal. At the end of last year, West High students made quilts to donate to the International Rescue Committee. Brighton High School has a different project for refugees, signing on to a United Nations-supported project to help refugees who'd been torture. Judy Jardine's class at Indian Hills Elementary made bright flower paintings to give to an orphanage in Africa that had dark, dingy walls. Jardine was inspired by a friend who'd volunteered there and described the place. They also took up a student's suggestion and gathered spare change for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Olivia Hutten, 10, could be speaking for all of them when she said, "I like doing stuff for other people. It's good."
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