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UCPS Gives Back: Benton Heights students and local coffee house partner to stir goodness

Cup of kindness

In a heartening display of youthful enthusiasm and community spirit, 12 fourth-grade students at Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts (BHESA) proved that age is no barrier to making a significant impact. Their recent venture into community service showcased their empathy and highlighted the power of collaboration between schools and local businesses.

The project began when the students, under the guidance of their teacher, Holly Casstevens, stumbled upon an eye-opening article detailing the scarcity of certain items in food pantries. The students shared their insights from the article and engaged in a class discussion. This process led to compiling a list of overlooked but essential donation items. Seeing that cake mix was often donated, they added cake pans to the list so those in need could enjoy the ingredients. They included various items like can openers, Styrofoam plates and cups, measuring cups and seeds for planting. 

The next step involved the students collaborating on a letter to local businesses, seeking their support in collecting donations for the Union County Community Shelter. Each student chose a business in Union County, located its address and prepared an envelope for mailing.

"Beyond the invaluable lesson in compassion and community service, the project provided a multifaceted learning experience, integrating crucial skills such as reading, writing and comprehension," said Casstevens. "The students worked together to read and analyze the article, compose a compelling letter and understand the needs of their community. They became key contributors and gained essential academic skills."

The project gave the students valuable insights, too.

"My favorite part of the project was researching the different stores and learning more about the community. I also like writing," said Chloe Jernigan. "I learned that not everybody has what they need but that we can help get that for them in different ways."

Chloe's classmate, Nahomi Aradillas, appreciated the freedom to select the stores they would contact. She emphasized the project's unique approach of empowering students to make meaningful decisions and help others. For K'Shonn McCauley, the group work and brainstorming were what he liked the most. He learned to share responsibilities and capitalize on each person's strengths.

"It felt good to know we were doing something good for the community," said Britian Cureton. "Doing something small instead of big can be a better way to get it done. Small things matter, too."

Among the stores contacted, only one responded to the outreach efforts. While the limited responses from the stores were disappointing, the students remained optimistic. This situation introduced an element of resilience into their community project, highlighting the importance of adaptability in the face of challenges.

"I felt sad other places didn't answer, but I was happy we received one response and that they wanted to partner with us," said Nahomi. 

The students included the following excerpt in their letter to demonstrate the benefits of the potential partnership: "By setting up a donation area inside your store, you will not only be helping a community service project, but you will also help get more customers to frequently visit your store."

Within two weeks of mailing the letters, Alice Jules Coffee House responded and confirmed their partnership with the class. The coffee house's owner, Kent Millsaps, went above and beyond using social media to promote the service project and their collaboration with the school.

On Nov. 2, fourth-grade students decorated a donation box and placed it at the entrance of the coffee house. The community responded quickly, with the first pick-up and delivery of donated items taking place on Nov. 7. The response was so overwhelming that a second delivery was necessary just two days later. The project continued until Nov. 17.

The collaboration between Alice Jules Coffee House and BHESA's fourth graders shows how community involvement can create meaningful change. These young students turned kindness into action, leaving a lasting impact on Monroe and Union County by helping those in need. The takeaway is simple: even small hands can make a big difference when contributing to the community's well-being.