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Second graders raise funds for disadvantaged women

Bridget Knight, Ben Ruehrdanz and Charlene Walsh have created Bare Necessities, a program that empowers kids to raise money for the disadvantaged women helping at their school.
Bridget Knight helping students build birdhouses.

Bridget Knight helping students build birdhouses. /Photo by Michael Walton

Learn more about the organizations involved

LEAGUE Michigan

Michigan Non-profit Association

Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center

961 Joosten SW

Wyoming, MI 49509

Dégagé Ministries

144 Division Ave S

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Sentinel Pointe Retirement Community

2900 Thornhills Ave SE

Grand Rapids, MI 49546

Kindergartners team up with second graders to build the birdhouses.

Kindergartners team up with second graders to build the birdhouses. /Photo by Michael Walton

Ben Ruehrdanz help the kids build birdhouses.

Ben Ruehrdanz help the kids build birdhouses. /Photo by Michael Walton

The media center at Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center rang with hammer blows. Teams of second graders and kindergarteners were hard at work building birdhouses while volunteering women from Dégagé Ministries guided them. The birdhouses were later brought to Sentinel Pointe Retirement Community by the kids.

This event is the latest in a project called Bare Necessities, a yearlong collaboration between LEAGUE Michigan, Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center and Dégagé Ministries. The project was nominated by the Michigan Non-profit Association, LEAGUE Michigan's umbrella organization, for "Project of the Year" and was one of three finalists from across the state.

In addition to the "Project of the Year" nomination, the second grade students have been recognized for their service. They received the Detroit Pistons' Game Changer Award, winning $500 for the program as well as game tickets for the kids. 

Bare Necessities is aimed at teaching second grade students at Godfrey-Lee the difference between needs and wants through hands-on experience in addition to usual lessons. This often takes the form of fundraisers they run themselves. The money from these events is used to buy bus tickets and meal vouchers for the women of Dégagé.

In exchange, the Dégagé women volunteer at the school. Dégagé Ministries is a nonprofit that offers shelter for homeless and disadvantaged members of our community. The organization implements a  system wherein patrons volunteer at nonprofits in return for meal and bus vouchers. The women volunteering at Godfrey-Lee help out with recess, the lunchroom and tutoring.

In the year since the project started, students have done three major fundraisers: a brownie sale in November, a trail mix sale in January and a Mothers' Day flower sale in May.

Bridget Knight and Ben Ruehrdanz, Americorps Vistas working for LEAGUE Michigan, orchestrated the collaboration with the help of Charlene Walsh, a second grade teacher at Godfrey-Lee. Walsh became familiar with LEAGUE when she attended their Fisher Training program last summer. As a part of the lessons they volunteered at Dégagé Ministries and saw how quickly the safe shelter for single women was filling up.

"Only 30 women a night can stay [at Dégagé], and there's over 500 women a night who need a place to stay," says Knight.

Dégagé Ministries' website sites statistics from the Coalition to End Homelessness, explaining that "700-800 individuals stay in emergency shelters in Grand Rapids on a given night. Many more, probably thousands, go unaccounted for as they sleep on the streets, in cars, or doubled up with family or friends." 

Walsh developed the existing Bare Necessities program in the second grade curriculum to help the Dégagé women while teaching students lessons about public service. She says the kids take a very active role in the project.

"Because the students are too young to actually go serve at Dégagé, we brought the women here to volunteer," says Knight.

Walsh says she hopes the Bare Necessities program will expand and become self sufficient in the future. With recently-purchased baking equipment thanks to a grant from the Kent Intermediate School District, Knight hopes to bring in a professional chef to help teach the kids in preparation for another bake sale.

Keep an eye on the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center website to learn about new fundraising activities.

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