Spanish classes brighten holidays for 2 local families
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Marin Shanahan’s two eighth-grade Spanish classes at Steamboat Springs Middle School never learned the names of the two families with whom they spent months writing letters.
They know both are single mothers, working full time to support their kids.
They know one family recently moved to Steamboat from Honduras, fleeing violence and extortion by gangs.
They know the other family is from Mexico and has been in Steamboat for a number of years.
Through their correspondence, not only did the students have the opportunity to practice their Spanish, they learned about differences in cultures and how they celebrate Christmas. And through the letters, they bore witness to eye-opening experiences, like the Honduran mother’s harrowing journey across the border.
The students also know both families struggle to make ends meet. They are aware of the high cost of living in Steamboat and understand there are people less fortunate than themselves. They understand some families have to make decisions between basic essentials and getting the bills paid.
And they know Christmas gifts are a luxury for some families and not a guarantee.
Once each class had been matched with their “adopted” family, the students began their fundraising efforts.
The whole project has been very student-led, Shanahan said. It was the students who brainstormed on how to go about raising money and collecting donations, she said.
In addition to lessons in language and the value in giving to others, the students gained real-life experience in fundraising.
They met with local businessman Paul Brinkman, who helped them with some of the skills needed to be an effective philanthropist. And those lessons — acting professionally, being prepared and being persistent — cross over to a multitude of life skills.
They learned about communicating by phone and email and setting appointments.
“You have to be taken seriously,” one student noted, in order to convince someone to give you something. That means how you dress, how you talk and how well prepared you are.
A few students mentioned rejection was hard — probably the most challenging part of fundraising. Giving their well-practiced speeches to the business owners was also a little nerve-wracking, some of the students said.
But they also learned resilience. When one business turned them down because they said they had already met their limit of donations for the year, they went to a nearby business not on their list and successfully solicited a donation.
“You can’t just sit back and wait for people to donate,” another student said. “You have to take charge and ask people, tell the story and be organized.”
And as they debriefed later in class, they brainstormed on what they could do differently — like starting to fundraise earlier in the year and holding multiple donation drives.
One student pointed out that some of the local families most in need may be ones who are hesitant to ask for help, and they shared ideas about how to best meet the community’s needs for future projects.
Shanahan encouraged them to think creatively and outside the box.
All ideas were taken in, discussed and evaluated.
They decided to hit up some restaurants for gift certificates, acknowledging that going out to eat is likely not something their sponsored families have the chance to do very often.
Both classes decided to start GoFundMe accounts, reaching out primarily to their friends and relatives.
Brinkman agreed to match up to $500 in donations for each class, and the students strategized on how to incorporate that into their pitch. They also held bake sales, doing all the planning themselves, from finding a location to baking to persuading customers to buy what they baked.
Each class raised about $250 alone from their bake sales — enough to cover some utility bills, they suggested.
As they hit the pavement, the rejection they faced was minimal. For the most part, the students said they were impressed and inspired by the community’s generosity.
In addition to a number of smaller donations, they got each family a year-long membership to Old Town Hot Springs and jackets from Smartwool and Big Agnes.
As the students wrapped up the fundraising effort and received their matching check from Brinkman, Shanahan collected everything for delivery.
While the students didn’t know the names of the moms or the kids — and Shanahan would be the only one to see their reaction firsthand — the students completely understood granting the families their anonymity.
Because of their compassion and hard work, the students knew the families would be surprised, both by the financial assistance, which exceeded their original goals, and the collection of gift cards and gifts.
They knew they made the holidays brighter for two hardworking families, and they loved that sense of accomplishment and benevolence.
One of the last things the eighth graders did before leaving for the holiday break was to write thank you cards to the businesses who donated and supported their cause.
It is always important to acknowledge people for doing something they don’t have to do, Shanahan told them.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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