First-graders learning to give receive national recognition

Class at McDonogh School could win $15,000 in charitable challenge

May 29, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

One first-grade class at a private school in Owings Mills has spent the year mastering the basics of primary academia and garnering a few lessons in hands-on charity.

The 16 students at McDonogh School have made fleece blankets and put together hygiene kits that included wool socks for distribution to Baltimore's homeless. First-grader Mary Corrigan knows the value of an extra pair.

"Your socks can get icky when they get wet," she said.

The students fashioned colorful friendship pins and sold them for a quarter. The project raised more than $300, including the proceeds from a rare coin the class found among the change. They sent the money from the pin sales to a school in India.

"We want them to have healthy snacks," said student Caelah Cross.

Then, there was the apple-picking trip to a local orchard and the donation of the fruit to a shelter in Westminster.

"You learn when you are helping that some people need the stuff we already have," said first-grader Kailin Hawes.

For their community service efforts, the 6- and 7-year-olds are competing in Howard Johnson's first Give Happy Challenge, a nationwide contest sponsored by the hotel chain and the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

"The idea is to try to spread happiness and reward people for paying it forward," said Rui Barros, senior vice president at Howard Johnson. "Generally, we feel people have big hearts."

The company, which is offering a $15,000 prize to the winner, pared the list of applicants down to eight and opened the contest to online voting. The McDonogh children learned last week that, after 14 days of daily tallies, they had made it to the final four.

"Basically, we told everybody we know to vote for us," said Richie Nichols.

Voting on the final four round is averaging about 1,000 a day, Barros said.

Although the first-graders are too young to vote, they are encouraging family, friends, teachers and neighbors, who are at least 18 years old, to help them over the top. They have written their own cheer — "Cheer, cheer for the final four. We are going on to score!"

They realize that their own acts of charity have put them in an elite category.

"We are in the top four of people who did the most helpful things for the poor," Kailin said.

The children may not know the full meaning of community outreach, but they understand the need to give, said their teacher Mary Catherine Irving.

"They do get why they are doing this, they really do," Irving said.

Electronic voting for the four competing schools ends before midnight Sunday with the top two contenders announced Tuesday. (To vote for the McDonogh students, go to and click on It Starts With Me.)

After another round of voting, the company will announce the winner on June 21.

"The children know that all of the top four are supporting really good causes that need money," Irving said. "If they don't win, they will be bummed a bit but they know they have shown people all over the world just how much a 7-year-old can do."

Irving, who entered her class in the contest, said the children already have a project in mind. They would like to buy a van for Loaves and Fishes, a Baltimore soup kitchen, where their teacher volunteers.

Irving has told her class stories of those who have benefited from their charitable endeavors and tales of an aging van with doors that won't close and an engine that often won't start or at times, won't stop. Still the van managed to deliver the children's blankets and health kits.

Their motives are not entirely altruistic. They like the idea of donating a vehicle and they would love a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters, a perk that comes with winning the most votes.

"We get to see basketball," said first-grader Nicky Jaworski.

Her classmate Phillip Hutzler is already working on a contingency plan.

"If we don't win, we will keep on raising money to help the poor," he said. "Next year, we will help the first grade do the same stuff."

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