Last night at a meeting with Penny Harvest teachers and community members, I was treated to success stories about some of our Penny Harvest kids and their accomplishments.
A couple of years ago, the Eagle Ambassadors at Lowry Elementary created libraries in two Lowry homeless shelters with the help of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. A year or two later, the Eagle Ambassadors installed a tether pole at one of the shelter, all as a result of their hard work researching needs and issues, as well as gathering pennies to be able to put these service projects in place.
One Lowry teacher said she and a group of their Eagle Ambassadors were recently at one of the shelters working with another bunch of kids. When one kid asked what an Eagle Abassador was, another student who wasn't an Eagle Ambassador either piped up and said, "you know the libraries in the shelters? These kids did that! You know our tether ball? These kids did that too!" The teacher said that this particular child wasn't even there during the projects, but the Eagle Ambassadors had contributed so effectively to their community, other kids knew who they were and what they had done.
Recently, I've been thinking about the name of our program, the Penny Harvest, and the message that name portrays. What's in a name? In this case, unfortunately, a lot of misconceived notions about what it is participants in the Penny Harvest do. The name Penny Harvest puts so much unwitting emphasis on the pennies and the total money collected that it has become quite the challenge to explain that this is not a fundraiser. And this is not about the pennies.
P is for power. If we simply told the students that they had a certain amount of money with which to do a certain amount of good in the community, we'd get a certain amount of results. However, when we start with something as small as a penny that we usually step over on the street, something that they can feel and weigh in their hand and see the pennies accumulating in their classroom jar, and then the full canvas sacks, and they can feel the weight of what they've accomplished as they're lugging those sacks down the hall, there are no boundaries to what we'll see them accomplish. After all, they just collected 125,000 pennies, they have rallied the school and everyone is talking about all the things they could do in their community! All the changes they can make! All the choices they have! And it's all their decision. This is the first step to proving what they can accomplish, and now that the penny is rolling, there is no stopping them.
Lowry Eagle Ambassadors - elementary school children - came up with the idea to create a library in both of Lowry's shelters, creating a safe and quiet space for kids to do their homework, read, and particpate in a volunteer program with the senior volunteers helping with literacy and tutoring. This was a need in the community that we adults had overlooked, or over-budgeted for, and these kids came up with the idea on how to make it happen with pennies. They have created community connections, a lasting legacy, as well as a thriving culture of giving at the school. Every year the Eagle Ambassadors participate in service projects and more and more kids are joining them. Last night we learned that 50 kids between two classes signed up to rake leaves for the elderly, and they loved it! They were asking when they could do that again!
The Penny Harvest is about so much more than the money. Every school that participates comes away with students that have learned that they really can accomplish projects that until recently they may have thought only adults could do. The problem, now, is keeping up with the kids!