Book Inspires Students to Fundraise for Refugees

photo of the book "My name is Sangoal"

It all started with a story.

Not just any story, but a book entitled, “My Name is Sangoel” by Karen Lynn Williams, read to – and by – students at Timber Ridge Elementary. The story focuses on Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan who comes to the United States with his mother and sister, and his new life where everything is new and strange.

Timber Ridge teacher-librarian Sara Richardson said the library’s theme this year is “Reading Takes You Places” and ties in with the district’s Portrait of Learner plan to build skills of community and global mindedness in students and teachers. “My Name is Sangoel” presented an opportunity to teach students about cultures and countries on the other side of the world, as well as why it is important to treat others with kindness, have open minds, and be welcoming to whomever they meet.

Three fifth grade students – Kate, Mackenzie, and Morgan – took these messages to heart and decided to start a school-wide fundraiser for refugees coming to Iowa.

“After reading the books in the library about refugees, we started thinking of ideas and ways we could help them,” said Morgan. “We did a fundraiser with the whole school and raised $1,054.00 for refugees.”

That’s right. Three compassionate friends, along with 750 of their classmates, raised more than $1,000 for the Iowa division of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). Samantha Baccam Huynh, office manager for USCRI, said seeing this sort of effort at a young age is inspiring.

“Given some of the recent things refugees and immigrants have experienced in our country, a gesture like this sends a very welcoming message to them,” said Baccam Huynh. “When we see young students put so much thought and effort into doing something kind for others, I think it gives everyone hope for the future of our nation. We are sharing the same mission to help others out.”

photo of three fifth grade girls presenting a check to an adult, along with their teacher and librarian

(front) Timber Ridge fifth graders Mackenzie, Kate, and Morgan presented a check for $1,054 to the Iowa USCRI office. In back stand Samantha Baccam Huynh (USCRI), teacher Lisa Johnston, and teacher-librarian Sara Richardson.

The three classmates researched refugees and put together an informative slide show that was shown at an all-school assembly in December. The students practiced in front of their class and with their teacher, Lisa Johnston, on presentation and speaking skills.

“It was harder than we thought to raise the money,” said Kate. “We said the class who raised the most money would get a fort day, where they bring in blankets to make forts in their classrooms. And, at the end of the fundraiser, everyone got a pajama day. It was nice that everyone and the teachers really tried to raise money for the refugees.”

Baccam Huynh said the money will be used to help local refugee families purchase winter coats for their children and warm bedding. She also said the Iowa USCRI is starting English-speaking classes and the funds will help out with the cost of books and materials.

“We’re glad people will get coats and other warm things,” Mackenzie said. “That’s something that we just take for granted and think will be given to us. It’s makes us really happy we are able to help them get things they need.”

As for future fundraisers, the three friends said it’s definitely something they want to do again. As a school, Timber Ridge students collect money and package Meals For the Heartland as a major fundraiser and community service project.

This is one story with a happy ending for all.