Compassionate class raises $1,000 for Kenyan pen pals

by Abbie Bennett

Jaclyn Tolido, 10, receives a check from Kimberly Ivey of Marvin AME Zion Church to help get clean water for her pen pal in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Lisa Tolido

WAXHAW – One class of Sandy Ridge Elementary fourth-graders decided that writing letters to their Kenyan pen pals wasn’t enough – they wanted to make a difference in the lives of their friends from thousands of miles a way.

Heather Lingerfelt’s class watched a short video clip of their pen pals during school in Kenya. According to Jaclyn Tolido’s mother, Lisa, her daughter and the rest of the class were overcome with emotion after watching the video.

“A mud wall school house featured one crowded classroom, a chalkboard and more students than seats,” she said. “Children of all ages gathered around the teacher whose own toddler stood at her side. Rationed water was distributed one by one in small cups. No smart boards, laptops, internet, white boards or even desks.”

Tolido said that the students responded immediately.

“They shouted, ‘Let’s Skype them!’” she said.

Tolido explained to the students that wouldn’t be possible, saying “Sorry kids, no computers in their schools.”

Tolido and Lingerfelt decided they would channel the student’s fervor into a fundraising effort – setting up lemonade stands, sending out flyers, knocking on doors of friends, family and neighbors, and asking for donations from local businesses. The money was raised in order to provide clean water for the Kenyan pen pals. Progress toward a clean water system had already begun in Umoja, Kenya, where many pen pals live, but funds had dried up.

According to a press release from Tolido, donations poured in immediately.

“Tyler Maple, 10, of Waxhaw, proudly raised $45 at his lemonade stand in the Reserve neighborhood,” she said. “Jaclyn, 10, of Marvin distributed personalized letters wrapped around water bottles and neighbors gave $5 (to) $50 each. Ankith Kanderi, 10, of Waxhaw, raised $185 and found people were surprisingly generous, stating ‘All I had to do was ask.’”

Local businesses also came to the aid of Lingerfelt’s class.

“Jaclyn left a flyer for her instructor at Karate Charlotte, who gave $20,” she said. “She gave one to her dentist, Dr. Long of Laxer of Long and Savage, who gave $40. At her tutoring session, she told her tutor, Ms. Ivey, about her pen pal and Ivey got her church involved, donating a check for $43.”

The money was sent to Pastor Alfred Mangwa, who Tolido knew through ministry work, who provided the names of 27 children from 8 to 10 years old that became pen pals with Lingerfelt’s class. Mangwa was the caretaker for many of the pen pals. The students began their correspondence in December 2011.

Tolido and Mangwa determined the remaining cost of the water treatment system would be $600. That was the goal Lingerfelt’s fourth-grade class set for themselves during their final week of school.

In total, the students raised $985.47 during that last week. Tolido’s ministry, Be Strong Ministries, sent $1,000 via Western Union to Mangwa in Kitale, Kenya, covering both the difference up to $1,000 and the cost of transfer.

Tolido said her daughter’s efforts improved her character.

“I noticed how Jaclyn learned to approach people, talk about a need and then ask for their help,” she said. “It built confidence and renewed her awareness that we are called to serve others.”

Tolido’s daughter Jaclyn said she valued her experience raising money for her class’s pen pals.

“It made me feel good to see the smiling faces on people I spoke with and to see how generous they were,” Jaclyn said. “I also feel warm and good knowing that the children in Kenya are going to be healthy and safe from unclean water.”

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