4th-grade classes raise $24K; donate half to community organizations

Sue Fegelein claps and Alison Chillemi holds her arms up as cars make their way past the LiftUp of Routt County food bank Tuesday afternoon as Strawberry Park Elementary School fourth-grade students raised and delivered a check for $4,029.71 to the local nonprofit. The fourth-graders also delivered checks to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and to Snow Bowl in support of the business' Family Bowl program.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The fourth-grade class at Strawberry Park Elementary School has raised $24,000, a portion of which they will give to three different organizations in the community.

As part of a service learning project, each of the four classes participated and raised over $8,000 with a fundraiser Ski-A-Thon and by selling reusable grocery bags made by downtown retail store, Ohana.

Led by each of their teachers, Kalie McHaffie, Susie Gruben, Heidi Hamric and Loretta Ellsworth, the fourth graders were originally planning to donate the money to Kiva, an organization that provides micro loans to small startups and businesses around the world. But when they had the opportunity to share their story with a local businessman, he donated two times what they raised, bringing their total to $24,000.

All of the money was originally going to go to Kiva, but when COVID-19 struck, the students started talking about how they could help their own community with the money.

“We posed the question, ‘Would you like to help your own community because people are struggling right here, right now?’ and the kids jumped at the chance to help,” said McHaffie.

They interviewed three different organizations via Zoom and ended up choosing all three to donate to. Now $12,000 of the money they raised will stay right here in Steamboat, with the other half still going to Kiva.

The chosen organizations were the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, LiftUp of Routt County and Snow Bowl, to support their Family Bowl program that has helped feed Routt County families during the pandemic. Each organization received $4,000 on Tuesday in a drive-by parade with teachers and several students.

But it was all of the fourth graders who worked hard to make these donations happen.

Cars make their way past the LiftUp of Routt County food bank Tuesday afternoon as Strawberry Park Elementary School fourth-grade students raised and delivered a check for $4,029.71 to the local nonprofit organization.
John F. Russell

“This project makes me feel really good inside and that our fourth grade is a big part of our community for helping others,” said student Maren Sachs. “I’ve learned how much of an effect these three groups have on our community. It makes me really appreciate them and how hard they work.”

Her twin sister, Evie, agrees.

“I feel very grateful to be able to give this money to the groups that help people, especially during coronavirus because some people can’t get what they need or have enough money to buy things,” Evie said. “I’ve learned to persevere because we worked really hard to get all of this money, and instead of keeping it to buy things for ourselves, we’re giving it to people who really need it.”

The three organizations are grateful for the donations, especially the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, which will launch a $25,000 matching challenge for their Yampa Valley COVID-19 Emergency Fund. Starting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 2, an anonymous donor will match the next $25,000 in donations, so that each dollar given is doubled automatically, including the donation from the students.

“The fact that this type of generosity is coming from a group of fourth graders is truly inspiring,” said Traci Hiatt, the community foundation’s donor engagement manager. “While these kids have had to adjust to distance learning, not seeing their friends, missing sports and activities, they have taken it as an opportunity to focus their energy on something positive — to help others and to make a difference in their own community. The kind of compassion, care and empathy that they have shown through their actions is something we should all aspire to and something that makes us so proud.”

In addition to benefitting the community, their teachers said that having a service learning project like this helped keep the students engaged during a time of distance learning.

“It’s been great to keep them connected and focused on making things better for everyone,” McHaffie said. “The amount of learning that happens when they get a real world experience, especially now that it’s so relevant, is something that they will remember forever.”

Fourth-graders from Strawberry Park Elementary School and their teachers gather outside the Yampa Valley Community Foundation to start their drive-by parade of giving Tuesday.
Photo courtesy of Helen Beall

Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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