Penny project shows children have cents of
By Michelle Bearden
penny here, a penny there.
How often do you run into the convenience store,
grab an item and tell the cashier, "Keep the
change," because it's just a penny or two?
I've actually thrown out pennies stuck together
with gum and hair at the bottom of my purse.
Pick up a penny on the sidewalk? Too much
This little story about a group of Good Hearts
may just get you - and me - rethinking the value
of a penny.
Sixth-graders at St. Mary's Episcopal Day
School, under the direction of teachers Linda
Boza and Andrea Cardenas, spent a month
collecting change and raising money for a
project that links them to a small village in
southeastern Uganda. They called it Pennies for
Papoli, the recipient community.
They raided their piggy banks, worked backyard
carnivals and car washes, did extra chores
around the house and dug out change in the
cupholders of their parents' cars. One boy
donated the $20 his grandfather had given him
In all, 45 kids brought in $1,200 - which comes
to 120,000 pennies. When put in that
perspective, the little copper coin seems to
have a lot more clout.
One hundred percent of the money will be sent to
Village Partners International. The nonprofit
organization, led by Tampa physician Sylvia
Campbell, sets up partnerships between a United
States entity - such as a church or community
group - and an overseas village in need of help
with health, education, housing and business.
It's not meant to be a charity organization. The
goal is to build relationships and develop
projects that will ultimately lead to
independence and self-sufficiency for those
villages. Work is already under way in Uganda
and Haiti, two parts of the world that make our
problems in the United States seem much less
The sixth-graders' donation will be directed to
a pediatric care center, sorely needed in Papoli.
Already, the village has a primary school and
preschool thanks mostly to the efforts of
supporters at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church.
"I'm proud of these kids, but not terribly
surprised," says Boza. "They like to go and do.
This gives them a purpose. If you point a child
in the right direction, you can get amazing
But the story doesn't end here. The students
want to share their success with other
youngsters and encourage them to take on
"Pennies" projects of their own.
Last week, they helped create a video that tells
the story of Pennies for Papoli. Each student
delivered a line, detailing the experience from
start to finish. They provided information about
the region and offered advice on organizing such
an effort. Carol Stefany, the school's
technology director, did the filming.
By the end of the school year, that video will
be posted on http://village
partnersinternational.org. The kids hope other
students will be inspired by what they've
More than 2,500 children live in Papoli and
surrounding villages, and more than half are
orphans. Most have lost their parents to the
AIDS epidemic that has devastated the region. A
pediatric care center will make a big difference
in these children's lives.
Campbell gets emotional when she talks about
what the St. Mary's sixth-graders accomplished.
"Children are the future of our world," she
says. "And when they begin to understand that we
do not stand alone, that we are all part of a
family that is interconnected, then there is
hope for peace, understanding and healing in
Listen to 12-year-old Maddie James and you, too,
will find reason to hope.
Maddie's younger brother and his friend wanted
to help with her class project. So they proposed
a backyard carnival to raise pennies, and she
enthusiastically joined in. They sold snow
cones, had a penny toss and a race-car rally. In
all, the resourceful kids raised $85.
Maddie had a personal stake in this. Her
parents, Molly and Hunt James, had taken the
family to Africa, and Maddie remembered how the
children there waved and beamed whenever she
waved at them.
"I never knew a wave could make a person so
happy," she says. "It did make me a little sad,
though, because I know how lucky I am and I just
wish other kids could be that lucky."
Maddie hopes to visit Africa again one day, but
next time, she wants to go on a mission trip to
offer support. For now, she's happy with sending
her contribution to the fund to build the
pediatric care center.
Not all school lessons are taught from a
textbook. This one required some creative
thinking and action. Bravo to these
sixth-graders, and let's hope other Bay area
classes get inspired by the video.
"The main thing I would say to people is that
you can indeed make a difference. Every single
person can make a difference," says Boza. "The
pennies that one child here gathered might
provide a shot to a child over there that will
prevent a disease."
Add up pennies, add up small actions - and see
how good will multiplies.