It was 5 a.m. on a chilly December Saturday – their day off – but more than 30 Boise Education Association members gathered in the J.C. Penney store at Boise Town Square Mall. They were there to help the Salvation Army bring Christmas to Boise children who might otherwise go without. Siimone Mansfield, a teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School, was paired with Alex, a second-grader from Amity Elementary.
BEA members had done a similar service project last August with the Salvation Army at Target, but the December “Dress a Child” morning was Mansfield’s first opportunity to take part. “More than anything, I wanted to experience the smile on the child's face,” Mansfield says. “She was great fun and such a sweetie. She knew what she wanted and led us around the store with such excitement and wonder. The one thing she really wanted was a nice pair of warm, winter boots. We found her a pair that she loved!”
Each BEA volunteer was given a $100 gift card to help the children shop for coats, shoes, jeans, and other cold-weather wear. Some educators whose students went a bit over made up the difference out of their own pockets. “They were picking out things they are going to wear every day,” says Kari Overall, a South Junior High teacher who helped coordinate the event. “Everyone had fun, and the kids were really excited about their purchases.”
“It really made me see the goodness in people, when it seems that all we hear about is how bad things are around the world,” adds Mansfield. “I had a chance to meet (Alex’s) mother afterward and she was a very nice, grateful woman. The Salvation Army is a wonderful organization and I can't say enough about JC Penney’s workers. My colleagues and I went out for a nice breakfast afterward, and I think we all had a renewed sense of what the season is all about.”
Although the holidays are a natural time for charitable works, Idaho Education Association members do an array of good deeds year-round. The best example is the IEA Children’s Fund, which will mark its 15th anniversary at Delegate Assembly in 2011 and will reach $1 million in grants given sometime in the next few years. (The tally as of August 31 was $866,930.) The Children’s Fund has been a godsend to many Idaho families during the recession, helping educators statewide help children with an array of needs ranging from emergency dental work to groceries. It recently received positive press coverage in The Times-News of Twin Falls and via a radio story distributed statewide by Public News Service.
Here are several more stories about IEA members’ good works:
Highway clean-ups build bonds
In the spring when Highland Education Association members go out to clean their two-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 95, the nearby canola fields blaze golden yellow under a brilliant blue sky. And in fall when they return, the volunteers just might encounter some snow flurries. But no matter the weather, the twice-yearly project gives the Highland educators a chance to visit with one another while doing a good deed along one of Idaho’s most heavily traveled highways.
It’s been six years since Highland EA first took on the Adopt-a-Highway project near Craigmont, says Shawn Tiegs, the local’s current president. He credits Danette Horrocks for coordinating the most recent pick-up this fall.
Tiegs says that he usually tries to pair up with a fellow member he doesn’t know so well so they have a chance to visit as they pick up cast-off bottles, cans, hub caps, and tennis shoes. “It’s a great bonding experience for the teachers,” he adds. “It’s great to be with the kids, but it’s a good way to get to know one another outside school.”
Over the years, quite a few IEA locals have taken part in Adopt-a-Highway as a way to help the community and get a little positive publicity via the state Department of Transportation’s roadside signs. If your local is interested in learning more, you can check the list of available highways here.
Lessons in compassion
IEA student members of the Education Club at the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene campus and North Idaho College have forged a long-term bond with Children’s Village, a home for abused and neglected youth. “Three years ago, we decided to pick one charity and really follow through,” says Cherie Major, who has advised the club since its start in 2006. Club officers at the time surveyed area organizations that help school-age children and chose Children’s Village as their focus. From warm pajamas and socks to books – not just at Christmas but all year – the UI-NIC Education Club has made a real difference at Children’s Village.
“Children’s Village is very much at the core of what our club values because it serves as an advocate for children who may not otherwise have a voice, as well as providing a safe-haven for them, very much like the walls of a classroom,” says Megan Clark, the club’s president. “As future teachers, abuse and neglect is unfortunately something that we will encounter in the classroom and we may have students who will benefit from organizations such as the Children's Village, so it's important that help them in any way that we can.”
Members donate their time, too. Jesse Lenz, a recent graduate now teaching at Ramsey Elementary in Coeur d’Alene, volunteered four to six hours each week at Children’s Village during his time with the Education Club. :”As an aspiring educator, it was important for me to see the wide range of students I would be working with,” he says. “I became really attached to the kids because they had such a joy for life. No matter how bad their situation was, they were so pleased to see me! It was just a great feeling after you hung out there for a while, and the kids never wanted you to leave.”
The club also works with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to encourage students there who are interested in education careers. Through one of several grants the club has won from the National Education Association, the chapter is underwriting a Future Teachers Association group for middle and high school students in the Plummer-Worley School District. They’ve also taken part in anti-meth education and service learning projects with the district.
Gently used goods keep giving
In September, the Idaho Falls Education Association held a garage sale to raise funds to benefit the students of their district. “We put an ad in the newspaper advertising the event, then members of the community contacted us and we went and collected their donated goods,” says Christina Van Dam. “We started to sell things before the sun came up and continued to sell into the early afternoon. It was a great success. With the help of many people who donated items to this cause we were able to raise $500. As people came to purchase items, we were able to thank them for supporting the students in school district 91.” The money could be applied for by any IFEA member to help students pay for school supplies, class fees, activity fees, or other needs.
Educators at Nampa’s Park Ridge Elementary School recently began partnering with “The Yard Sale Place,” a local business, to help students who need shoes, clothes, and personal items.” Coordinators say The Yard Sale Place is allowing educators to gather items at no cost to pass on to students who need them. Organizers are shopping once a month based on the needs that teachers have conveyed. Volunteers call parents to see if they’d like to take part and to get correct sizes, and they notify teachers when the students’ needs have been filled.
36,418 cans of food
The newly announced 2011 Idaho Teacher of the Year Stefani Cook of Rigby High School (see page 7) has been deeply involved in community service over her teaching career, but one project stands out. Last year, Cook organized a community food drive that collected a staggering 36,418 cans of food in a district serving just 4,713 students. (By way of comparison, a December 2010 food drive by much-larger Nampa High School netted a school-record 13,686 cans of food.)
Cook says her principal, Gary Comstock, promised the school that if they could collect 25,000 cans of food during the 2009 holiday season, they could get out for Christmas vacation a half-day early. Reaching out to the elementary school, too, Cook and her students blew past that target as they collected the 36K+ cans in just two weeks and transported it all to the Rigby food bank. It was there, where students helped sort the food, that Cook realized what a “life-changing-experience” it had been. This holiday season, Rigby High set a more modest goal of adopting three families.
Honoring our nation’s veterans
They’re called the Greatest Generation for the way they fought World War II in the 1940s, then came home to build families and businesses during the prosperous 1950s and 1960s. For two years now, educators at Jenifer Junior High in Lewiston have made it their mission to be sure that some of these veterans – who are now in their 80s and 90s – have a chance to visit Washington, D.C., to see the National World War II Memorial.
“Because of their advancing age, there’s a bit of a rush to get them back there,” says Lewiston Education Association President Bruce Schulz, who noted that seven of his local members have been the spark plugs behind the schoolwide project. Last year, the school raised $3,000 to send six veterans back to the nation’s capital via Inland Northwest Honor Flight. This fall, they doubled that amount, so a dozen veterans will be making the trip.
Schulz says LEA members have also been active in Jackson’s Pay It Forward Foundation, which began in memory of a Lewiston boy who died of cancer. The fund’s goal is to make life easier for other children with debilitating illnesses. Educators work long hours at their jobs, but giving back to the community is simply a given, he adds, noting, “I don’t know what kind of community we’d have anywhere in this state if we didn’t have that empathy. Just like we do for everything, if it’s important, we make sure it gets done.”
What kind of good deeds is your local doing in the community? We’d like to know. Send news releases and photos to Julie Fanselow at email@example.com.