PUBLISHED: 4:10 PM on Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Students' pennies support local relief
Mendenhall River Community School

Photo by Amy Steffian
  Kindergarten teacher Stephanie Messing with a penny poem and a Masters of Disaster curriculum kit awarded by the Red Cross.
In December, the spirit of giving overflowed Mendenhall River Community School, where students, teachers and staff worked to raise money for the American Red Cross through a penny campaign. It took six weeks. There were snow days, the Thanksgiving holiday, parent-teacher conferences, and preparations for Christmas, yet children remembered to bring pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to support disaster relief in Juneau. The results surprised everyone. At an all-school assembly, Principal Patty Newman announced the grand total - more than $1,400 dollars.

Organized jointly by Juneau's chapter of the American Red Cross and the Mendenhall River School Parent Teacher Organization, the penny campaign was a classroom competition. Each teacher received a decorated coin can and help promoting the drive. Flyers went home to parents, posters hung in the school lobby, articles appeared in school newsletters, and the Bryson family, Mendenhall River parents and owners of Juneau's Subway franchise, offered a sandwich party to the primary and secondary class that raised the most money. Wells Fargo Bank counted all the money free of charge.

At the head of the pack were Stephanie Messing's Kindergarteners. Her twenty-four students donated a whopping $258.84 to win the campaign. "They filled two coffee cans, a glass jar, a butter tub, and a plastic bag," said Messing. "It was an impressive pile of change."

Wendy Connelley's fifth graders raised the most money among the school's intermediate classes with a generous donation of $94.00. Both classes enjoyed a sandwich party and the satisfaction of making a meaningful contribution to their community. All of the funds will be used in Juneau to help those in need.

Messing attributes her student's win to an enthusiasm for both the competition and helping others. One child, whose father is a firefighter, was particularly motivated to give. "He understood the need to help people after a disaster," said Messing.

Messing also encouraged her students to raise money by tying the campaign to activities in her classroom. She found poems on coins to recite, developed lessons around identifying coins, and gave each student a penny, a nickel, a dime and a quarter to add to the can - so everyone could participate. And one morning the class arrived to find the coin can empty and the change scattered around the classroom - the penny fairy had been up to some unusual tricks.

Penny campaigns are popular school fundraisers in other parts of Alaska, but had not been held in Southeast Alaska until this year. The success of Mendenhall River's efforts suggests that they can have a meaningful impact. Linda Wahl, of the American Red Cross in Juneau, sees the campaigns as a way to teach children about emergency preparedness, raise public awareness of Red Cross services, and encourage giving. And in return for the school's help with the campaign, the Red Cross donated a Masters of Disaster curriculum kits to the winning classes.

Messing's class was particularly excited to receive the kit. "Having the assembly and being able to have the kit awarded in front of the whole school made the students feel great. They got the recognition they deserved," she said.

Mendenhall River School plans to make the penny campaign an annual event, and the Red Cross hopes to expand the drive to other area schools next fall. Building on the experiences of Mendenhall River School, and Glacier Valley School, who also held a campaign, Wahl plans to produce kits that will help parents and teachers implement penny campaigns throughout the district. If the results at Mendenhall River are any indication, Juneau students could make a tremendous contribution to caring for our community.