CHESTER -- In fall 2013, Chester Grade School seventh and eighth grade science teacher Joann Meyer began a schoolwide effort to raise money that would be donated to worthy organizations and individuals in and around Chester.
"I know how much the community has given us at Chester Grade School over the years with physical support, financial donations, encouragement, sponsorships, etc.," Meyer said, "and it came to mind that it would be a great thing if we could give something back to the community for all that it has given us."
Meyer doesn't like taking credit for what happened next. But teachers, staff and administrators at CGS embraced the program. And now, as Meyer is getting ready to retire this spring, she has clearly created a legacy that will outlast her. The junior high teachers have committed to keeping "Give Back" going.
"I just serve as the coordinator of the 'Give Back" program. The teachers and staff are the ones who participate and make the monetary donations each month," she says. "The praise and recognition goes to everyone who has contributed over the past six years."
When the program began, Meyer solicited ideas, comments, directions and, of course, permission from the administration. Teachers and staff suggested fundraising ideas and who could benefit from the money.
Back in 2013, teachers and staff were not allowed to wear jeans to school. Principal Tim Lochhead and the Unit District 139 administration agreed to offer teachers and staff the privilege of wearing jeans the first Wednesday of every month for the low, low price of just $5.00.
All of the money collected each "Jeans Day" was donated to a deserving entity in the community.
Recently the administration began allowing teachers and staff to wear jeans to school on a regular basis, which means Meyer and her "Give Back" team had to find a different motivation.
"People give to the program for the joy of giving, and don't need the motivational 'carrot' of wearing jeans," she admitted. But for fun, they established the new privilege of wearing "comfortable clothes" on Give Back days.
Some wear jeans, others wear athletic clothes or colorful outerwear. The name of the special occasion is now called "Comfortable Clothes Day." Meyer also sometimes throws in a special drawing or prize ticket with each donation.
The March Give Back event was done on behalf of the Love Abby Foundation.
The Love Abby Foundation began following the tragic, January 2015 car accident that killed two bright, young teenagers, Hannah Porter and Abby Liefer of Red Bud. The girls were struck by a drunken driver.
Abby's parents, Terri and Daniel Liefer, created the "Love Abby" movement to provide support for children in the Randolph County area, with school supplies, basic hygiene items, and the joy of receiving Christmas gifts during the holidays.
Over the course of the Give Back program, teachers and staff have made the donations to the chosen entity without the help of students. The one exception was in 2017 when students participated in raising money for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
The second exception was the Love Abby campaign. Teachers and staff donated $5 for the privilege of wearing comfortable clothes to school and students could participate for $1. The kids got into the spirit of it, wearing fake mustaches, sports apparel, dressing like the popular candy, M&Ms, and wearing school colors. The junior high science classes created T-shirts decorated with the student's favorite element.
Other classes wore pajamas, hats, hoodies, beach wear, and other unified comfortable apparel. One class was allowed to bring favorite stuffed animals while another class dressed like their favorite superheroes.
The school raised $1,100, one of the highest totals a Give Back has achieved.
It provided many items and services to Randolph County children: 66 personal hygiene bags; 172 girls personal hygiene bags; 115 pairs of children's shoes; 149 pairs of gloves; 86 hats; 7 scarves; 18 coats; 66 emergency foster care bags; 5 fully stocked diaper bags; 213 book bags with classroom-specific supplies; 3 college scholarships and 92 Christmas morning children's experiences, complete with toys, specific wishes, coats and shoes,
The foundation further provided a washer and dryer, detergent and fabric softener to a local school. Love Abby staffers also did daily chores, made dinner and helped with other routine activities at one person's home.
"The Positive Give Back to the Community Project" has truly been a success due to the wonderful people here at Chester Grade School," Meyer said. "They have huge hearts with the knowledge of how important it is give back to their community."
"Hopefully we have demonstrated to the students the importance of these efforts and that they will continue to follow our lead into the future."