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Never too young to learn about giving back

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While the age-old saying "it is better to give than to receive" is usually heard most frequently around the Christmas season, second-grade St. Agnes School teacher Jennifer Williams and her class of 12 students decided Christmas was too long a wait.

Out of a desire to give back, Williams and her class embarked on a week-long, money-collecting project, with the proceeds going to UNICEF to provide a water pump for a needy village. 

At the end of the week and through the donations of family, friends, neighbors and the rest of the school children, Williams and her class counted a grand total of $626.44 to donate. Williams' class alone brought in a total of $209.60.

Planting the seed of inspiration

After reading an article in Time for Kids about UNICEF and learning one of her students had been participating in a UNICEF trick-or-treat project since the age of 2, Williams decided to start a UNICEF project of her own.

"I thought, ‘Wow, that would be a pretty cool idea for (my class) to do,''' Williams said.

She then contacted UNICEF to inquire if she could have some of the boxes students take around for donations at Halloween. While discussing the project, UNICEF officials asked Williams if she would like enough boxes for the whole school.

Realizing the small school setting could facilitate maximum involvement, Williams said yes, turning the idea into a school project.

"(The class) got to work and they each made posters about UNICEF and what the money is used for and what UNICEF is," Williams said. "Some of the kids had never heard of UNICEF before and it's such a good organization and it's about giving back to others."

Williams' second-graders presented their posters to the different classrooms, gave the other children UNICEF donation boxes, told them what the UNICEF project was and the hoped-for amount of funds donated.

Every morning, the children had the opportunity to donate money through dropping their donations in a drop box set up in the hallway.

While Williams said she anticipated receiving about $200, that total was surpassed by $426.44.

"We didn't dream we would get that much money," she said. "The money just kept coming in."

Making it a tradition

"This is going to be (a class) tradition that they are going to pass down," Williams said.

And the students themselves are more than happy to keep the tradition going, wanting to make the fundraising event even bigger next year, extending it to two weeks instead of one.

"I've already told their next teachers these guys want to be in charge of it again and they're going to make the posters," Williams said. "They asked me to order the boxes a little earlier next year and I told them I would."

They also expressed enthusiasm about having a bake sale and doing additional projects at the school to raise money for UNICEF. 

As a way to know where the money goes, Williams said UNICEF has promised to keep in touch and correspond.

"They're going to send us some pictures so (the children) can actually have a visualization of how they helped and who they helped," she said. "We're pretty excited to hear some feedback about where the money is going. 

"Just a small little act of a good deed turned into something really big."

Having collective support

When Williams went to Principal Anne Davis with the idea, Davis said she was very enthused. 

"I was very excited because one of the things I've tried, or trying this year, is to stress to the children about helping others," Davis said. "It's not about what we got out of it, it's about what we do for others, so it was a great idea.

"It fit in very well with that whole thinking."

One business professor said the project from St. Agnes is a good way to combine life lessons for students.

"This is a classic example of showing how learning can be fun, engaging and be of service," said David Luechauer, graduate professor and Cecil I. Walker chair of management at the University of Charleston. "This is the type of activity that not only teaches youngsters skills, but it also gives them practical business experience."

While Davis said she anticipated collecting a good deal of money, it was nice to hear the huge amount, reflective of the collective effort of the school.

"We only have 130 kids in this school," she said. "That goes from 3-year-olds to the fifth grade."

Davis said having the second-graders spearhead the effort and for the rest of the children to support them was wonderful.

"Any time there's an idea like that, everyone is very supportive of each other and proud of the kids when they do a good thing."

At the end of the weeklong fundraiser, Williams' class took a field trip to City National Bank, where the children saw a coin sorter in action.

"Each of the kids got to go in and watch how it sorted," Williams said. "It was kind of an educational experience as well."

Additional give-back projects

"We do local projects once a month," Williams said. "We're very lucky to have what all we have."

Projects include bringing in donations for local food banks and "The Giving Tree" — a Christmas tree set up in the hallway for the week of Dec. 2. 

"(The kids) bring in gloves, scarves, hats and mittens, and it's going to be given out to kids in need," Williams said. 

On Dec. 9, second- and third- grade classes will go to different businesses in the area to sing Christmas carols, ending with lunch at Cracker Barrel. One stop includes a nursing home.

"My class made (the nursing home) cards last year because there are several people that are at the nursing homes that might not have family living anymore," Williams said. "We got so many thank-you cards last year. It really uplifted quite a few folks."

By spearheading the UNICEF project and continuing to give back, Williams told her second-graders they have started their own story.