Learning a lesson of compassion

Elementary school students pour out their hearts, piggy banks and sweat for New York

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— If generosity is judged more by the sacrifice involved and less by the size of the gift, then some of the most generous givers are running through the halls and playgrounds of area elementary schools.

Administration and teachers say they have been amazed at students' heartfelt response to the families of victims in New York City.

Steamboat Springs' Soda Creek Elementary and Strawberry Park Elementary schools began raising money on Sept. 19 for the New York Firemen's Widows and Orphans Fund.

Final donations were collected two weeks later on Oct. 3, with Soda Creek raising $5,826.61, and Strawberry Park raising $5,874.75.

At both schools, students could drop their small offerings into large containers visible to everyone. Inside the schools' offices, parents could privately hand their larger donations to administrative staff.

"This has been a very unsolicited effort," Soda Creek Elementary Office Manager Marcia Sanford said. "This was not contest. There were no prizes. The kids just gave because they wanted to."

Eight-year-old Katie McNamara stood on her front lawn last Sunday and sold glasses of Tang for a quarter to contribute to Soda Creek's fundraising efforts.

With sales lagging, the determined third grader decided to try a new marketing strategy.

McNamara added "for New York" to her poster board, and business suddenly surged.

"People saw what the money was for, so they bought more of my Tang," she said.

After splitting the profits with her stand partner, McNamara placed all of the $12.25 she earned in the large plastic container that sits just inside her school's front entrance.

Soda Creek fourth grader Chloe Banning collected loose change from family members and brought it to school a few days before all the money was tallied.

"I thought the people in New York needed it more than we did," Banning, 8, said.

Banning's teacher, Jeanne Lodwick, said she was encouraged by her students' unselfish acts of kindness for people they don't even know.

"Not only have they given money, but also their thoughts and sympathy and true compassion," Lodwick said.

Strawberry Park Elementary secretary Marybeth Johnson and Office Manager Pam Brandt watched children tromp in daily with their fists full of coins for the big glass jar that sits in their office.

"You see them come in with their piggy banks, and they give all they have," Johnson said. "It's so obvious that they want to help."

The jar had to be emptied once because the coins were almost spilling over, Brandt said.

Larger donations were mailed to the school, and some donors gave $500 and $1,000, she added.

Brandt and Johnson agreed they witnessed many small sacrifices in the last two weeks that would put the biggest philanthropists to shame.

"So much of it is their own money," Johnson said. "You can't talk kids into doing that. It's of their own doing."

Second grader Braden Vitek emptied his piggy bank in Strawberry Park's glass jar.

Vitek, 7, said he knew it was the right thing to do.

"I wanted to see the jar go all the way up to the top," Vitek said. "I wanted to help those kids."

His classmate, 7-year-old Eian Stamp, brought in $19 worth of Sacajaweia dollar coins.

He said he convinced a friend of his mother's that he would put them to good use.

"I really felt bad for all those people who lost their moms and dads and stuff," Stamp said.

Students at South Routt Elementary in Yampa took a different route to raising money for the Uniformed Firefighter's Association Widows and Children's Fund and the Scholarship Fund for Victim's Children.

Physical education teacher Gary Heide led his classes in a "Run for NYC Relief" beginning on Sept. 24.

Students asked people in the community to pledge a penny for however many miles they wanted to sponsor, and the school will know the amount of money raised by next week.

Students were a little uncertain about "running" 2,000 miles from Yampa to New York City, Heide said.

"But as we began to chart our progress on a wall map of the United States, they began to realize that the more they ran, the sooner they would get there."

During the first week, Heide said, students ran only during P.E. class around the school's fourth-of-a-mile football field.

Then the small sacrifices came.

Many students began to run during morning and noon recess. Some took the project home with them and had their parents keep track of how much they ran around town.

"They took their free time, that they didn't have to give up, and spent it doing something worthwhile," Heide said. "They didn't have to do it. They wanted to do it."

By Oct. 5, the students finished up the last few remaining miles in their two-week trek to New York City.Third grader Michael Porter said he liked running during recess because he felt good about what he was doing.

"This is to get money for children in New York," Porter, 8, said.

His classmate, Kimberlynne Hill said she didn't think twice about using her free time to help out those who were in need.

"This is for the people who suffered," Hill, 8, said.

"It's worth it."

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