Fifth-grade students at Mesa’s Holmes and Longfellow elementary schools were given the chance to become philanthropists through a program funded by the Whiteman Foundation, which donated $100 to every student.
“You know how to spend your money to buy things you want,” said Holmes principal Darlene Johnson, as she addressed her students during an assembly at the school on Tuesday. “Today we’re talking about how to share money.”
Through the program, fifth-graders decide what their $100 share goes to support. It can be divided among as many as four different charitable organizations at the student’s discretion.
Students heard from representatives of Helen’s Hope Chest, United Food Bank and Sunshine Acres Children’s Home to compliment their own independent research on local charitable organizations. During the assembly, students asked questions about how many people are provided services through the charities, what donated money goes toward funding and other ways students can donate besides monetary gifts.
A trial run with Holmes’ fifth-graders last year was so successful, that the Whiteman Foundation expanded it to Longfellow this year.
“Children of all ages and particularly those of lesser means should get the experience of giving to an organization,” said John Whiteman, a founder of the Whiteman Foundation.
It teaches kids who might not learn what it is like to give, Whiteman said. While many children grow up knowing how to buy the things they need and want, some don’t learn about giving back.
Additionally, it teaches children a multitude of skills in other academic areas, including math, English, critical thinking and research, he said.
“Who will benefit?” Whiteman asked rhetorically. “In this case, the citizens of Mesa.”
It’s all a part of developing well-educated, considerate teenagers and adults, he said.
“Philanthropy is about giving the chance of hope,” he said. “They can say, ‘I can make a difference if I work. I want to give back to the community.’”
Last year’s fifth-graders in the program liked the idea of giving back to their community so much, this year they raised their own funds to donate to charities. Through the selling of snow cones to other students at the school, the now-sixth-grade class was able to earn a total of $324. Whiteman agreed to match their contributions.
“It’s really good to give back because other people might need it more than we do,” said Elvira Moreno, a Holmes sixth-grader in Patty Medina’s class who participated last year.
This year, she wants a portion of the sixth-grade funds to go to Sunshine Acres, and also to the Humane Society and the Children’s Crisis Nursery, two charities that she donated to last year.
“This year it gives us a chance to collect our own money instead of using someone else’s,” Moreno said with a smile.
Heads nodded and murmurs of, “Yes!” could be heard throughout Medina’s classroom at one student’s suggestion of raising even more money before the end of the year.
They already have the syrups required for the snow cones, so the startup costs will be even lower, Medina said.
This sort of thinking and generosity is exactly the hope that Whiteman had for these students.
“I will die and never know how this eventually affected these children,” he said. “I love being a fuse. It’s about hope, light and giving.”
For Whiteman, giving to the Longfellow and Holmes students is just part of his mission to help surround children with good mentors, create a great support system for them and give them an education that will work as a stable basis for their entire lives.
“If you wire the brain right, there will be less dysfunctional teens and adults,” he said. “No child is born saying, ‘I want to be a failure.’ You can’t wait until someone is older to fix their behaviors.”
Instead of “only bailing water out of a sinking ship,” Whiteman hopes to “patch the hole.”
“The Legislature wants to cut funds to educate kids and increase funds for prisons and that’s just ass-backwards,” he said. “The future isn’t in criminals; it’s in little kids.”
The Mesa United Way facilitated the program by linking the Whiteman Foundation, the elementary schools and local charities.
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