Friday, June 20

Getting Kids Involved in Charity and Social Justice

I have been so blessed in my life, and I always feel like I should be doing more to give back. I'm quick to make charitable donations, partly because I have the luxury of time often meaning more to me than money. I give to the church, and I love to pledge friends who are running/walking/biking, or support kids who are fundraising for their organizations.

While this is certainly valuable, writing cheques doesn't really do enough to teach my own daughters about charity and social justice, but I also know that our current schedules don't allow for a lot of opportunity to roll up our sleeves and volunteer our time. (Yes, we could choose to make the time, but right now it isn't happening.)

I pondered this dilemma last summer, and came to a decision: that I would be the staff adviser (along with the principal) for our school's Leaders Today/Student Government group. That way, I could devote my time (recesses, lunch hour, prep time, after school) to these sorts of initiatives, and incorporate them right into my teaching practice. Maybe I'm not out working at a soup kitchen, but I am mobilizing close to 200 children to get involved. That has to count for something, right?

I'm also in a very unique position, having my two daughters at the same school as me. I know they will be directly impacted by all of the projects and fundraisers, so I'm combining my parenting with professional practice. (You know how I love to multitask!)

With the support of staff and parents, here's what our kids accomplished this year (and while skimming the numbers, please keep in mind that we currently have an enrollment of only 174 students!)

Terry Fox Fundraiser: this started a few years ago at our school as "Toonie For Terry", asking for a $2 donation per student in advance of our big walk date, which would raise between $300 and $400. This year, we upped the challenge and were not disappointed, donating slightly over $1000 to the Terry Fox Foundation.




Having the principal volunteer to colour his hair green and take a few pies to the face may have helped!






Thanksgiving Food Drive: The day before Thanksgiving weekend, we held a staff dodgeball game in the gym, asking for a non-perishable food item from each student as admission. Everyone attended!

Christmas Hampers: Every year students donate the items that are needed to put together a Christmas dinner...and more. Cash donations are put towards the purchase of  turkeys and perishable goods to complete the meal. Often these hampers go to families right from our own school community, so the needs hit very close to home, and it gives students such a sense of pride to be able to help.

Kinsmen Toy Drive: Our barrel of toy donations was full again this year, bringing joy to many children throughout the community on Christmas morning

Used Children's Book Drive: In January, we put out the call to families to clear off their shelves of any children's books that they no longer needed, and boy, did they rise to that challenge (you know I'll do anything to get people to purge and declutter!) We collected over 1200 used children's books, which were organized by category and age level and set up in the lobby of our local Ontario Early Years Centre. There, they were made available free of charge to any families who needed them. I'm told it didn't take long to clear those tables...and the newspaper even came to take a photo of our kids with the books!

This initiative was particularly important to me because I want kids to know that doing good work like this doesn't always involve money. Many of our families can't afford to be sending in cash donations on a regular basis, but this was something kids could do on their own - go to their shelves and find even one book that they've outgrown or no longer enjoy.






Valentine's Day Dance for Abush: "What's Abush?" you ask? It's not a what, it's a who...and he's our sponsor child from Ethiopia. On Valentine's Day, the Student Government planned games and dances for the students (based on age) and asked for a $2 donation each. It takes $454 to support a child for a year, and this helped us get close to that number.


Food For Fitness: In April, a local fitness instructor generously donated a day of her time in exchange for food donations from the students. Combining charity with fitness..what a great combination!


Easter Card Sales for Development and Peace: There was a big local focus with our projects this year, and we wanted to step back and think a bit more globally during the Lenten season, and also support a Catholic organization which has such an important impact around the world. One of our very artistic Student Government members hand-drew a series of four Easter cards (two religious, two secular) to be coloured by the students and given to their friends and family. We kept the price low and sold them for $0.25 each, yet still managed to send a cheque for over $100 to support the work of Development and Peace.


Wigs For Kids: You may have seen my full recap about our exciting hair donation day, but in "short" (ha ha) eight students and one teacher donated 10" of hair to be used to make free wigs for children with medical hair loss. We had a really fun assembly where the entire student body watched the ponytails get chopped, and some great sponsors donated prizes for a jam-packed gift back for our girls. There are already students asking about doing it next year!

My daughters and me before:




And after:





While these projects were school-wide, in my own classroom we also wrote letters to Canadian peacekeepers situated in Jerusalem (we thought it was appropriate to thank them for continuing Jesus' work right where He started) and we did a collection of items for our local St. Vincent de Paul store (Vinnie's), again encouraging the kids to painlessly donate items they no longer use.

Could we have done more? Of course. Could I personally be doing more, both in the school and outside of it? Absolutely. But this was definitely something.

Thanks to our staff, parents, and amazing students for making all of this happen.

What initiatives take place at your child's school? I'm always looking for new ideas!

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