I had the privilege of speaking to an amazing woman named Donna Nelson the other day. She’s helping children see beyond themselves. In the process, these children are experiencing the idea that happiness comes from contributing rather than receiving. They are seeing that great things can be accomplished when people pull together toward a common goal. They are seeing joy amidst the kind of need that most of them will never fully understand.
Donna is spiritual activities coordinator for Cherry Hills Christian Middle School (CHCMS) in Highlands Ranch, Colo., a suburb of Denver. She’s coordinated a partnership with Food for the Hungry (FH) for three years. That partnership gives young teens the hands-on experience of blessing others who are less fortunate than they are.
Through the Spanish department, CHCMS children write letters to children in a village in Guatemala. The children excitedly await receiving letters back.
At Christmas during the first year of the partnership, each CHCMS Bible class owned a portion of a five-week candy drive.
“The kids had to think about how to market their candy,” said Donna. “They did announcements every morning. When their sale came up, they had to work the sale and count the money. At the end, they had raised $3,000. Each Bible class then decided how to spend the money in the FH Christmas catalog. It opened their eyes that the school could walk alongside people in extreme poverty. With everyone pitching in, we could make a big difference in people’s lives.”
This year, the school’s Christmas outreach was to sponsor all the children in a specific Guatemalan village where FH works. But it went beyond that.
“We wanted to make it an educational effort,” said Donna, who introduced the FH Hope Tree outreach in late October and kicked off the program in chapel at the beginning of November.
“We got sponsorship packets of 275 children from Guatemala, Kenya and Burundi,” said Donna. “We put the photos from all those children on the wall during the chapel, and we talked about what it means to walk alongside children who live in extreme poverty.”
Each of the CHCMS children took home the packet of a child who was waiting for a sponsor. The families prayed about whether or not they would be able to walk alongside the child whose packet they took home.
“I spent a lot of time praying for registration cards to come back,” laughed Donna. “Each time someone brought one back, that child’s photo was put up on wall. We decorated our Hope Tree with the beautiful faces of those children.”
During that chapel service, the school played an interactive online game called Survival 125. About 1.5 million people (26 percent of the world’s population) live in extreme poverty, which is defined as less than $1.25 a day. The game takes you through a series of choices to see if you could survive for a month on $1.25 a day – things like where to live, whether or not to pay for a school uniform and what to eat.
Then the children were challenged to spend only $1.25 at the grocery store to buy everything their family would eat for a day. They brought their day’s rations to Advisory Group and voted on who bought the most nutritious food. The winners had chosen high protein foods like tuna, salmon and beans.
The day CHCMS introduced the Hope Tree in chapel, students also found pieces of paper on their lockers. FH had provided 20 scenarios of people in the developing world. The students were challenged to “walk in their footsteps” by creating potential solutions to the problems faced by the person. The Advisory Group voted on the best solutions, and the winner won a scholarship of $1,000 to spend in the FH Gift Catalog.
“The biggest thing for me is to realize the tremendous need out there in the world,” said Donna. “I didn’t realize there were so many children living in extreme poverty. It feels great to know that we can, through this outreach program, have an opportunity to make a difference. We can change the course of these children’s lives through the Christmas catalog and Hope Tree program. It’s great to know that the resources God has given us can be used in such a mighty way.”
I’d like to personally thank the CHCMS children, teachers and staff for the reminder that when God is your inspiration, you can find great satisfaction and meaning by working together toward a greater good.