A Local Story About Making a Difference

You've heard the old saying, it's better to give than to receive.  Is that really true?  The story below from Tessie Lucas, a 4th Grade Elementary Teacher at Huntington Elementary School, just might answer that question.  Thank you, Tessie, for sharing your story and inspiring us all to make a difference!


I am a fourth grade Reading teacher.  During the week of October 20, we read all about making a difference.  We read about businesses, organizations, individuals, and children that are making a difference in the lives of others.  In class, we also discussed that no matter how old you are you can decide to help others.  I thought all week, how can I challenge my students to make a difference in the lives of others?  Knowing that I teach in one of the poorest school districts in the state of Ohio, how can I ask students to donate canned goods, books, or money?  I also know that it is hard to be able to go out into the community to help people, because it is not feasible based on the school location.  I had planned later in the year to make cards for troops, veterans, elderly or first responders, so that was not the answer at this point.  Thursday, as we finished reading our story, I still had no idea what I could do to set my students in motion to want to help others.  The final part of what we read was about a group called Penny Harvest, and the light clicked.  I knew how I could challenge my students; to collect pennies.  

     I knew that many of my students and families struggled with adequate money for their daily needs.  So, although it did not sound like much, we discussed if they thought they could each bring in just two pennies.  All the students seemed to believe they could do that, and if they wanted to bring more they could.  We talked about looking under couch cushions or in parking lots to find spare change.  We decided we would start collecting the next day and would continue for the following week, so everyone could have a chance to find two pennies.  Then, what would we do with the money was the next question.  We decided that I would take the money and buy nonperishable food items, that would then be delivered to the Good Samaritan Food Bank of Ross County.  I have approximately 85 students, and I told them I would put in two pennies for each student or I would do 200 pennies.  When we were done we would have about $4.00, which I told them would buy about 8 or 10 items for the Food Bank.  They were excited and at this point I figured we might collect $20.  

     The next day, I placed a mason jar on a shelf near my desk, on the front I had written, “Change to Make a Difference”.  I waited and watched as students dropped not just pennies, but quarters, nickels, and dimes in that jar.  One student  said, “my mom said you didn’t just want two pennies, because you can’t do anything with only two pennies, so she sent more.”  I told him to go home and tell his mom that when we work together that those two pennies can make a difference,  but thank you for bringing more.  I watched that jar fill to the top that day, and my faith that there is still goodness in the world returned.  I watched kids I knew were hungry drop just not pennies in the jar but a couple quarters or dimes, and even dollars.  At the end of the day after the students had left, I walked that jar around to some other teachers and said, “look what awesome students I have!”  I had no idea that was just the start.  I went home that night and sat down to count and roll change.  As I added up the total, tears rolled down my face.  We had not just collected our goal of $4.00, but  had collected $28.75.  I was shocked at how giving a group of children had become.  They were getting nothing in return but to know they were helping others.         

     On Monday, I returned to school and with a smile the size of a full moon, and wrote the total on the board.  I told them how I was so proud and impressed by their generosity and I had bragged on them all weekend; that people knew about what a difference they were trying to make in the lives of others.  I had them give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done and told them they should be proud of themselves for wanting to help others.  That night I returned home with a jar full of change.  They had collected $12.14 that day for a new total of $40.89.  

    Tuesday, I similarly put the total on the board and we discussed what we were doing this for, not for a total amount collected but to make a difference in the life of someone else.  That day the jar quickly filled and by 10:00 am we started filling a gallon bag.  I could see how proud they were of themselves, because they knew they were making a difference.  That day a student asked, “Ms. Lucas do you think we will make it to $100?”  I told her I didn’t know and asked her what mattered the most.  They all could quickly answer that it was to make a difference no matter the amount of money.  That night I counted $23.21 for a new total of $64.10.

     Again I returned to school with a smile due to what wonderful students I had and wrote the total on the board.  This was the day that probably was the most impressive of their collection.  I watched the jar fill up not just with pennies, but silver coins.  Then, we filled a quart bag, and then I had to find another container because this bag was full too.  I also had a little girl quietly say, “Ms. Lucas I have change.”  I told her to go put it in the bag because the jar was full.  I do not know where all she was pulling that money from but she finally handed me a bag full of money with a piece of paper that had written on it $12.57.  She said, “I counted because I wanted to know how big of a difference I was making.”  Now, I had to just walk away and gain my composure because I am pretty sure that little girl is probably hungry herself and yet she was adding so much to the jar.  I had to wait as I cleared the tears out of my eyes, before I turned to tell her what an awesome and kind little girl she is and how she was making a huge difference for someone else.   That night with tears running down my checks I counted the amount of money they had placed in the jar.  In just one day they had brought in $72.36 for a new total of $136.46.  I was floored and couldn’t wait to share with them that YES they could make $100.

     Thursday, after I shared with them that they had indeed raised over $100 and how many people were proud and showing interest in their story, they were beaming.  Thursday was really the day they began to see for themselves how huge this was and how what they were doing was so important.  We discussed again that no matter the total of money collected, that even if we had only raised our original $4.00, that what matters was that they wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.  We also discussed that someone in the fourth grade that was putting money in that jar might have a need to go to the food bank, so we might be helping a fellow classmate.    

     Friday, I wrote the new total of $167.90 on the board, Thursday they had collected $31.44.  This was supposed to be the last day of our collect but now they wanted to get to $200.  That morning the jar was less than half full and we were so close to getting $200, but it didn't look like they would collect that much.  They had faith in themselves that they would.  Another teacher put the word out that if any teacher had some spare change my students could really use it to get to $200.  The students cheered and thanked each one of them, as teachers brought spare change in for their jar.  That night when I counted the change we had, $37.27.  Giving them a grand total of $205.17!  Yes they did it!  I was overjoyed and cried tears of happiness because I had no idea that my simple two penny challenge would spark their interest so much to want to help others. 

     I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I challenged my 83 students to make a difference in the life of someone else.  I returned to school today to let them know their total only to have more money fill our jar.  Tonight, as I counted up our grand total I will proudly return to school tomorrow and write the total of $245.83 on the board and watch as they realize what a huge difference they are making.  I will be taking that money to purchase nonperishable food items and then bring the food to the school for the kids to see how far their money goes in buying groceries.  

     Even though this group of kids has impacted my life forever, this is not just about the teachable life moment this two penny challenge started.  This two penny challenge is about the classroom lesson that sparked the interest of an awesome group of students that I hope will forever want to help and make a difference in the lives of others.


Tessie Lucas

Huntington Elementary School