JACKSON — A group of high school students from Golden Valley, Minnesota, were able to see firsthand how their fundraising efforts directly benefited schools in Louisiana impacted by August’s floods.
Eight students and two chaperones traveled to Louisiana after their school raised $3,000 to aid in the flood relief effort. Kiera Sundeen, a junior from the Breck School in Golden Valley, spearheaded the effort. Roughly $2,500 was used to cover shipping costs of more than 24,000 books. The books were donated by Talent Development Secondary, of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, a nonprofit that specializes in assisting the needs of vulnerable schools.
The books were stuck in a warehouse in Maryland and with the donation from the Breck students, were shipped to Louisiana where they were distributed to several schools in East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes.
The money was raised through various fundraisers, including one on Valentine’s Day where people at their school could pay a dollar for valentines to be delivered, and then the person on the receiving end could pay a dollar to find out who sent it. They also held a “chock-a-puck” fundraiser at a hockey game where fans purchased pucks and threw them toward the center circle to win prizes.
The students who made the trip to Louisiana paid their own way, and they wanted to assist with the book distribution and observe how TDS partners with area schools.
After hearing a story on NPR about Diplomas Now, Sundeen reached out to Charles Hiteshew, chief executive officer for TDS, to see how she could get involved. Diplomas Now is a partnership between TDS, City Year and Communities in Schools.
Hiteshew connected Sundeen with TDS’ local Site Transformation Facilitator Jennifer “Z” Zeringue, who works in the Baton Rouge region, to see if there was a way that Sundeen and her classmates could assist the flood-affected communities alongside TDS.
“The experience reminded the students that we sometimes take a lot for granted every day, and it can be gone just like that,” said Zeringue. “Many people lost everything, but you can start over. That’s the spirit of the people of the South — the resilience despite this unprecedented event that happened.”
Because she’s competing in gymnastics, Sundeen wasn’t able to accompany her fellow Breck students, although she made a trip earlier when the books were first delivered.
“We’ve talked about how there are deep issues with equality in schools in our community, as well as other communities,” said Fredrique Schmidt, one of the Breck School chaperones. “They were able to see the kindness of a community-based response. It’s easier to learn about issues when you see it up close, and I feel inspired that our students took the initiative to learn these lessons.”
The Breck group arrived in Louisiana on Feb. 17 and participated in the book donation at Park Forest Middle and Brookstown Middle.
The group also participated in flood cleanup in Clinton and the book donation at Jackson Elementary.
“The thing I’ll take back is all the energy from all the (Jackson Elementary) students,” said Kalynn Garrett, a junior at Breck. “It was amazing to see how this (East Feliciana) community has responded with showing love toward each other.”
The group also got to have some fun, attending a couple of Mardi Gras parades, traveling to New Orleans, and of course, sampling some Louisiana food.