For six years running, Maine’s West Bath School has supported Heifer through Read to Feed. Each year, librarian and former teacher Elena Desjardins, affectionately called “Mrs. D” by the 150 students in grades K-5, leads a Read to Feed campaign to increase the students’ interest in reading, while also raising money for Heifer International families all over the world.
Three weeks into this year’s campaign, fourth-grader Ethan Reno approached Mrs. D, and said, “I want to help you inspire more students to join Read to Feed this year because I want to help save more children.” She answered, “Well, how would you like to work with me as our school's Read to Feed ambassador?” With this, these two set two goals and embarked on a unique Read to Feed campaign. The first goal was to raise at least $3,000, which would surpass the previous year's amount. The second, loftier “dream goal” was to raise $5,000 to buy a Heifer Gift Ark.
To generate interest and participation, Mrs. D kicked off the campaign by showing the video version of the story of Beatrice's Goat. She also designed a math lesson with examples of possible funds raised by students who might obtain one, five, and even 12 sponsors. “We did the math, which proved that along with the books read, the key to raising more money lies in the number of sponsors recruited. The mantra became, 'The Power is in the Sponsors...with more sponsors, an Ark is possible!’” Every week, she showed Heifer YouTube clips about Read to Feed and the value of livestock. They even had a classroom guest, Heifer volunteer and Maine resident Jane Elwell, who visited West Bath School and shared photos from a trip to see Heifer’s work in Peru. Through Elwell’s photos, the students got to see Heifer’s project families giving and receiving animals during a Passing on the Gift® ceremony. Witnessing the full circle of Heifer's work created a powerful connection that left the students feeling even more inspired. Elwell’s presentation prompted this reaction from one teacher, “Wow, Heifer is the real deal, not just a money machine operation, but it truly makes an impact in the lives of the impoverished...I'll donate!”
At the three-week mark, 62 students had signed up for Read to Feed. To inspire even more to join, Mrs. D introduced Ethan as the School's Read to Feed ambassador at a school-wide assembly. Decked out in Heifer's "A Kid Can Change the World" T-shirts, Ethan and Mrs. D read Faith the Cow, which explains how Dan West started Heifer International. Ethan showed photos of the real Dan West, Faith the Cow and happy families receiving Heifer livestock and unveiled inspirational Read to Feed posters he created. These posters, along with photos of Ethan giving his presentation, were later hung around the school as reminders to work for Read to Feed.
To motivate both students and teachers, Ethan and Mrs. D shared their Read to Feed slogan, which incorporated words from the school's Code of Conduct: “Read to Feed and have Compassion; Persevere and Make it Happen!” Ethan appealed to the students who had not signed up by handing them another enrollment form, this time with a personal handwritten invitation from him asking parents to re-consider signing up their child in an effort to help feed more children by reaching the dream goal of earning an Ark. Mrs. D and Ethan invited staff to participate, too. Ethan proclaimed, “Dreams can come true, and it all starts with you!” Ethan and Mrs. D concluded the assembly by playing and singing along with Heifer's music video, “Say Love,” and distributed Read to Feed bookmarks and Heifer pins to everyone. Of the assembly, one teacher was heard saying, “I am so impressed with the presentation; it moved my heart to want to participate.”
Within two weeks of the assembly, 28 additional students had joined the campaign, bringing the total to 90. Inspired by the possibility of raising enough money for a Gift Ark, some of the original 62 students to sign up were inspired to increase their personal Read to Feed goal. Paxton, a first grader who raised the most money the previous year, said, “Mrs. D, Read to Feed is one of the best programs at West Bath School.” When she asked why he thought so, he said, “Because IT SAVES LIVES!”
Ethan even inspired Mrs. D to participate in the fundraising. She set a goal of $500 to match Ethan's goal. Having Mrs. D become an actual participant and set her own goal further motivated the students. They felt like they were truly all in this quest together as a team to earn an Ark. Ethan worked with Mrs. D after school and during recess to create a large Read to Feed banner to hang in the gymnasium. The banner depicted a landscape with livestock reading books under the school’s Read to Feed slogan. It also featured a large tree. Each leaf on the tree was a small photo of each student participating in the campaign. They also scripted radio-like broadcasts called “Read to Feed Friday” to play over the school intercom, during which Ethan reported up-to-date online donation totals along with facts about how Heifer was founded 70 years ago, where and how Heifer works, and the value of three specific Heifer animals. Ethan closed each broadcast with, “Stay tuned next week for three more animals!”
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The online donation option is new to this year’s campaign. Mrs. D customized a Heifer-branded fundraising web page for the school. It featured West Bath School's mission and goals. Students created their own web pages to share personal fundraising goals, and these pages were linked to the school’s main Read to Feed page. It became an after-school ritual for children and parents to check the web page to see the total increase as new donations came in. Mrs. D and the students also checked the page during library class each week. “It was very exciting to see my students' genuine anticipation and excitement as I logged onto the web page to reveal the amount of online donations,” Mrs. D said. “It helped keep Read to Feed alive and well in our minds and hearts.” When cash and checks came in, they were counted and the total was kept secret until the end of the campaign. This created great anticipation among the students around the “dream goal.” Students would often ask, “Mrs. D, did we get the Ark?!” Her response was always, “We'll all find out at our Read to Feed celebration!”
With a little help from friends and family, Mrs. D and Ethan expanded Read to Feed’s reach beyond West Bath’s campus. They created an outreach team, which included themselves, Ethan’s mother Shannon, Ethan’s classmate Maddy, and Maddy’s grandmother, Ellen. For several Thursdays after school, the team visited businesses in their community and told them about Read to Feed. The business community and even the Interact Club at the district’s high school were inspired to donate. Ultimately, $1,000 was raised from just the community outreach. Businesses said they were “happy to have the opportunity to support their local school in supporting a great cause like Heifer International.”
Two and a half months after the campaign began, it was time to celebrate. Ethan and Mrs. D presented Read to Feed certificates to each of the 90 student participants and announced the 14 students who raised $100 or more. The four classes that raised the most money were awarded pizza parties and the other classes received popsicle parties. The top three top earners raised $330, $355 and $570, and received prizes of stuffed animals. Ethan won first place and, in the spirit of Passing on the Gift®, decided to give his stuffed animal to the Kindergartener who earned the most money. Additional stuffed animals were raffled off for all of the student participants. Two raffle winners who had already won stuffed animals followed Ethan’s lead and passed on their gifts to others.
Mrs. D announced that a total of 1,250 books were read during the campaign, and the gigantic check with the secret amount raised of $7,318 was finally unveiled! There was a roaring cheer and round of applause from the students, teachers and visitors. The students were beyond thrilled to have reached their dream goal of earning a Gift Ark and then some! Mrs. D said, “Dreams can come true if you believe and persevere.” She thanked Ethan for “shining his light on this campaign.”
A surprise guest, Jan West Schrock, daughter of Heifer’s founder Dan West, was introduced as the lady who wrote Give a Goat, the children's story Mrs. D read to the whole school earlier in the campaign. As the student ambassador, Ethan was happy and honored to present Jan with the school's Read to Feed check. Jan said her father “would be very proud of the students at the West Bath School who made a big difference in the world.”
Money continued to come in even after the celebration was over. The final count for the year was $7,525. The six-year grand total raised for Heifer International stands at $16,525.
Story by Jan West Schrock
Photos courtesy of West Bath School and Jan West Schrock