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School Rallies Behind Sixth-Graders’ ‘Crazy’ Campaign To Help The World

“We didn’t think we were going to raise that much."

Kirsten Solloway, left, and Ryleigh Justice, sixth-graders at Elkridge Landing Middle School, pose with money they raised to help typhoon and tornado victims. Courtesy Photo from Elkridge Landing Middle School.
Kirsten Solloway, left, and Ryleigh Justice, sixth-graders at Elkridge Landing Middle School, pose with money they raised to help typhoon and tornado victims. Courtesy Photo from Elkridge Landing Middle School.

When Kirsten Solloway learned how Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in November, she knew she had to do something. After all, her stepfather is Filipino, and with members of his family living in the Philippines, she felt a personal connection to the tragedy.

Kirsten, 12, started discussing ideas to help with her friend and sixth grade classmate at Elkridge Landing Middle School, Ryleigh Justice, 11. At the same time, she learned about tornadoes wreaking havoc in Illinois in November, and she said the two of them felt compelled to help victims of both weather events.

“We decided we didn’t want to help just one group when the damage was going on in both places,” Ryleigh said.

Their idea was a change-collection drive they held from Dec. 3 to 20. They decorated 30 Ball Mason jars, one for the front office and the others for each classroom and asked  classmates and teachers to donate their spare change.

The amount raised - $1,017 - surprised even the girls. They donated the money to the American Red Cross.

“We didn’t think we were going to raise that much. We thought, $600 at the most. We never thought we’d hit a thousand,” Ryleigh said.

“It was crazy,” Kirsten said.

And, it got crazier.

Classrooms started competing against each other, although it wasn’t part of the girls’ effort, said Jennifer Blasko, the school’s Positive Behavior Coach. Teachers approached her with change, saying it was to be earmarked for their classroom, she said.

“A lot of people wanted to win,” Kirsten agreed.

Four classrooms each raised $100, so the school gave each a dessert party, Blasko said.

School officials even saw children donate money that was returned to them as part of the school’s program that encourages children to turn in found money, said Assistant Principal Julie Rout.

Typically, school officials return unclaimed money to the child who turned it in. But this time the children donated it to the change drive, Rout said. School officials even had to remind them to donate it through the jar in their classroom, and not the jar in the office, which was meant for visitors, she said.

“They said, ‘You know what, it wasn’t my money to start with,’” Rout said.

The school got behind the effort because the girls had a plan and were organized, Rout said.  

While many students are caring children who want to help, not all can carry through on their plans, she said.

“They’re a model for other students of what’s possible,” Blasko agreed. “I think many times, they think, ‘What can I do?’”

The last days of the drive even saw a special push from school officials, Rout said. The drive had raised $937 in the last hours, and school officials pushed the children to get to an even $1,000, she said.

Kirsten’s and Ryleigh’s parents both were on board, the girls said.

“My mom thought it was a good idea, not only helping us, but she said she’d donate $100,” Kirsten said.

“My mom thought it was awesome we weren’t focusing on ourselves,” Ryleigh added.

The girls aren’t sure what their next project will be.

“I’m sure we’ll come up with something,” Ryleigh said.


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