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Editor's note: Read to Feed® is Heifer's reading incentive service-learning program that offers global education opportunities and will foster in children a love for reading, a passion to help others and a motivation to help create a better world. This year, we have designated April as Read to Feed month. In this post teacher and former Heifer volunteer Erin Dowd describes her experience with the program in her classroom.

I first became involved with Heifer through the Read to Feed program back in 2008.  It prompted one of the single best moments in my life as an educator, and it was completely unexpected.

My mom, who is a teacher as well, told me about a reading project that her school participated in each year to raise money to buy baby chicks. I was intrigued. What a perfectly tangible way to help children begin to understand how they can help others even on the other side of the planet. It was also a way to make reading relevant beyond the textbook. I was so excited, but also a bit worried about introducing this “fundraiser” to my students. To me it was so much more than just raising money, but there was money involved. I was working at a Title I school where many of my students came from families struggling to get by themselves. I was skeptical, but I pressed on. Even if we only raised a couple of pennies, it would be something.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I introduced the project with videos from the Heifer website and I talked with my third, fourth and fifth graders about how to get sponsors. They immediately warmed to the project and wanted to find out as much as they could about both the animals and about Heifer International. Ideas were flowing, and the excitement was palpable. We agreed to have a pajama day where we would spend the whole day "Reading to Feed." We displayed a large poster of our class goal, and the kids were thrilled to get started.

And boy did they get started.

Every single student came back with at least one sponsor. They visited the website themselves and found even more resources and games that they brought to class to share. The motivation was evident and completely self guided.

When the reading day came, they were focused and anxious to reach their goal. They read like their lives depended on it, documented all of their progress and couldn’t wait to get home to show their parents how much reading they had done. The final total was going to be calculated in the days following.

The next day we had a field trip scheduled to go see a movie about animals. It was a special event; so many of them brought a little bit of spending money in order to buy a snack. What happened next blew me away.

We got back from the trip and were regrouping in the classroom. I was at my desk getting some things organized while the students were working on a reflection. One student came up to my desk and held out some money in the palm of her hand. “It’s my snack money from the movie. I wanted to give it to Heifer, for the animals.” I thanked her and quietly praised her decision. Shortly after, a stream of children came to my desk offering me their snack money too.

Before I knew it, I had a pile of crumpled dollar bills and coins covering my desk. Goosebumps appeared on my arms, and I was overcome with a feeling of pride because I knew that this moment sprung from their own care and concern for others not from any adult prompting. All it took was an opportunity, and the kids ran with it.

We met and exceeded our goal, and we were able to choose a goat and several flocks of chicks between my three reading classes. The power of giving was alive and well in those days, and I know that the kids will remember it for years to come. I know I will.  This project was perfect because it allowed my students to become personally involved in a cause. Read to Feed allows students to expand their world view, feel a sense of ownership, develop greater empathy and ultimately become a better human. And isn’t that what we really want for our children?


Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.