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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Woodfill Students Exhibit Leadership Skills Through Puerto Rico Fundraiser

Students at Woodfill Elementary raised more than $2,000 to benefit the ongoing relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

What began as a small seed of an idea grew into an ongoing partnership with Northern Kentucky University (NKU), and a joint gift of $4,000 to help support the ongoing relief efforts in Puerto Rico. 

Heather Turner, Woodfill’s Spanish teacher, said she, along with Johnson teacher Julie Dashley and Moyer teacher Silvia McClamrock, were discussing donating gifts to children in Puerto Rico back in December. (Today, more than six months after Hurricane Maria, some are still without power.)

Woodfill Spanish teacher Heather Turner, along with students, showing off the Puerto Rico fundraiser T-shirts.

“I thought T-shirts in Spanish would be an easy way to raise a lot of money, and I talked to some 5th graders about taking on leadership roles to make the fundraiser happen,” Turner says. 

Students created a slogan, and made posters and commercials to advertise the campaign.

Students chose to sell T-shirts as well as collect change. Their slogan: “Change the world with your change."

With a team of 15, Turner says students organized everything from commercials to informational posters, promoting the campaign daily. They had a contest for most money raised and the winning class, which donated more than $200 in change in just two weeks, won a piñata. 

Each classroom had a collection box for coins.

“The hardest part was counting all the coins and rolling them up each morning and afternoon,” Turner says. “I could not have done this without great student volunteers like Sydney and Stephen Shoemaker. They really helped.” 

Turner hoped that a local Puerto Rican would be able to accept a check on the behalf of Puerto Rico. She was put in touch with Irene Encarnación, a Spanish professor at NKU who is from Puerto Rico. After several phone calls, Turner and Encarnación – who had been raising funds for Puerto Rico at NKU – decided to partner and merge donations from both schools to make a bigger impact.

“We both agreed that we were searching for a non-profit organization that we could trust where each cent would go to the hands of people who really need it in Puerto Rico,” Turner says. 

Turner says Encarnación visited Puerto Rico over her spring break, made videos and interviewed locals, as well as attended town hall meetings regarding the rebuilding and reinstallation of electricity. “She came back with Comité pro desarollo de Maunabo,” Turner says. 

In the end, Woodfill’s ¡Yo soy Líder! Desde KY a Puerto Rico Ayudamos a Nuestros Amigos campaign received an equal match of $2,000 from NKU’s Latino Institute for Excellence (LIFE). Encarnación, a co-chair along with Leo Calderon of NKU LIFE Puerto Rico Relief Campaign, surprised Woodfill students on March 27 with an equal $2,000 gift match.

NKU surprised Woodfill students with a matching gift.

“Encarnación came to school with a large check, presented to the 5th graders, and we had many little Puerto Rican flags to celebrate our collaboration between KY and Puerto Rico,” Turner says.

The event, Turner says, marks the beginning of future collaborations between NKU and WES. “She was incredible,” Turner says of Encarnación. “All of the students really enjoyed her presentation and wanted their picture with her afterwards. She has a lot of charisma and gratitude to the students for what we had done to help her home country.”

The donation is set to directly assist in the reconstruction of Maunabo’s Natural Reserve, and will contribute to restore the facilities of la Casa Verde and their neighboring communities. 

“We are all connected,” Turner says. “It’s imperative, as global citizens, that we become educated in all facets of the world. Language, culture, religion, environmental issues – all of these things. They make us well-rounded, respectful and tolerant people. Puerto Rico is part of the United States. It is an incredible place to visit, with so many warm and generous individuals whom I have met personally. I have traveled to Puerto Rico twice and have friends from there. I think it is my responsibility to shape my student’s view of the world in hopes that they one day can share my compassion for others and be proactive to help others when a natural disaster strikes.”

The fundraiser became a school-wide campaign, with many students taking on different leadership responsibilities. 

Keith Faust, Woodfill’s principal, says the fundraiser served as a great example of success in terms of the school’s Leader in Me program. 

“One of the challenges of implementing a culture change like Leader in Me is that naysayers may question how you determine its effectiveness, as there are no traditional assessments or measures,” Faust says “To them I point directly to projects like the Puerto Rico fundraiser. Our students set a goal, developed a plan, synergized and proactively implemented their plan. They thought beyond themselves and were selfless in their actions. They internalized and lived the seven habits on a personal level to accomplish and surpass their goal. To me this evidence that we are developing leaders and doing it in a tangible way.”

Turner says her biggest reaction to the fundraiser’s success was gratitude. “It was a small idea that turned into a big fundraiser,” she says. “I am really proud of all of the students at WES where the climate here makes it cool to buy a shirt in Spanish that helps others."

Turner says she's also proud of the 5th grade leaders who stepped up to plan and orchestrate the entire fundraiser.  "I am also thankful to have administration that backed these ideas, and allowed for us to do the fundraiser," Turner says. "I also want to especially thank our secretaries and the local bank for their patience with all of the coin deposits. I could not be more thankful for a new friendship and collaboration with Irene Encarnación from NKU. I hope we can continue to work together on future endeavors. It is also very pleasing to know that at both Moyer and Johnson they continued the efforts to help Puerto Rico by selling their own shirts as well.”

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