Winecoff Elementary, Cabarrus County

Each year, fifth-graders in the Cabarrus County Schools program for academic and intellectually gifted (AIG) students are asked to complete a Make a Difference project. For the past few years, the students at Winecoff Elementary have chosen to support different charities as a group for their project.

During the 2005-2006 school year, the students chose Make-A-Wish® for their project. What started out as a service project for these students became a schoolwide project, uniting the whole school in a joint purpose, centered on the concept of hope.

Emily Riley, our Make-A-Wish coordinator, brought us a packet filled with information about the foundation. We looked through the materials, found out how much it would cost to fulfill a wish, read about ways to raise money, thought about how we could implement the program at our school, looked at the reward program, set our goal … and then watched a video about a young girl named Hope Stout. Hope’s wish was that all 155 wishes waiting to be granted would be fulfilled. When we watched the video and saw Hope’s beautiful beaming face, we were encompassed by her amazing spirit. Our campaign became more than completing a service requirement — we wanted to be part of Hope’s legacy.

My students decided that we wanted to raise money without competition. We wanted the school to be joined together in this project. We started by selling Make-A-Wish stars in the lobby before school each day. Our lobby was decorated with a huge balloon arch using the Make-A-Wish colors, blue and white. We asked the students who purchased the stars to sign their name on them and hang them in the halls outside the classrooms. We also sold Make-A-Wish wristbands. The AIG students went into every classroom at the school and left behind Make-A-Wish change collection boxes. They advertised the campaign on our in-school broadcast system every morning. Our goal was $5,500. We were stunned when we collected almost $2,000 in the first week!

Hope’s story touched so many of the teachers at our school. Kim Nance made a Make-A-Wish wishing well at the front of our school where we collected more than $100 from children throwing coins in the well. She also painted leopard paw prints (our school mascot is the leopard) on student faces for a donation to the project. We even had individual grade levels do fun activities for a donation. We were excited the second week to find out that we had raised about $3,500, but we were also worried. Donations were getting smaller, and the end of our campaign was in sight.

We called the local newspaper and asked them to do a story on our campaign. Donations came in from the community. We had teachers' family members, members of local businesses and parents truly giving from the heart. One parent came in to the school, said that she and her husband had prayed about how they could help, and handed me a check for $1,000. At a teacher’s meeting, we showed the video of Hope. We needed around $600 to finish out our campaign. After the video was shown, a teacher gave us a check for the amount we needed to make a child’s wish come true. Once again, Hope’s spirit was leading us.

Teachers went back to their classrooms and spoke to their students about giving from the heart. A kindergartener brought in his piggy bank money — piggy bank and all. Another brought in tooth fairy money. One morning we noticed a first-grader lingering beside the wishing well for a long period of time. When we walked over to see why the child was taking so long, he told us that he was just wishing so hard that nobody ever had cancer again.

When all was said and done, we raised $9,000. We ended our campaign the way it began — with HOPE. Each student was asked to take a star off the hallways and go to the playground. There the students and teachers stood on chalked lines that spelled out the word “Hope.” We asked the fire department to bring out a truck with a bucket. Our technology facilitator, Eric Ruddy, climbed in the truck, soared high into the air, and took our picture. We are a large elementary school — mroe than 1,000 students — and this was our first-ever group picture. In the Make-A-Wish video, one child says, “Hope is an angel, and she’s in Heaven.” We all held our stars over our heads, so that she could see us from Heaven.

Winecoff Elementary, Cabarrus County

After the campaign ended, we waited to hear about the wish child we were going to sponsor and really wanted to meet him. After weeks of waiting, Joshua came to our school with his parents and told us about how wonderful his wish to go to Disney World was. Hope Stout’s father also came to visit our school. Raising money for Make-A-Wish became so much more than a community service project for 20 students. It unified our school in so many ways.

We will never forget Hope Stout. She will live in our hearts forever. We are proud to be part of her legacy …and proud to be a school of “Hope.”

Debra Williams – AIG Teacher

Monica Smith – School Counselor