SHAWANO — Four-year-olds in Shawano made a special gift to people in faraway Bolivia this winter.
Three of them.
Thanks to fundraising by the 4K class at Sacred Heart School, three Bolivian families will be able to purchase the animals that support their unique culture.
Along the way in their “Llamas for Love” project, the 12 little ones in Michelle Powers’ class learned about that culture, could point to Bolivia on a map, practiced public speaking, worked on their printing skills and came to understand how they could follow Jesus’ teaching to love and help others.
Powers, a second-year teacher, said she was looking for a community service project that her young pupils could do. Classes throughout Sacred Heart had already taken on a number of service projects and there have been a variety of school-wide activities, too.
Across the curriculum at Sacred Heart School, missionary discipleship is emphasized, said Principal Aleta Young, a challenge to which Bishop David Ricken has called the Green Bay Diocese.
Searching the diocesan World Mission Services Project booklet, produced by the Catholic Foundation, “The llamas project caught my eye,” Powers told The Compass. The goal of $100 for a Bolivian family to buy a llama seemed doable, “and I knew llamas would definitely appeal to the kids.”
She began by having a long talk with the children about Bolivia. Part of the discussion, Powers said, “was how we can help someone we’ve never met, and that they won’t ever know who (the pupils) are.”
Once they learned about Bolivia and llamas, members of the 4K class gave presentations to the other classes at Sacred Heart School.
“One showed where Bolivia was on a globe,” Powers said. “One told how much llamas cost, and another explained that they were used for their wool and their milk. Then they asked for their help, a dollar from each student.”
The idea went over big with the older children. Dollars came pouring in.
To thank them for their support, 4Kers printed the names of each donor on the drawing of a llama, and scores of those paper llamas now decorate the school entryway.
But the project didn’t end there.
Parents of the schoolchildren asked if they could donate to the project. More donations came in when a request was made in the parish bulletin.
“Next thing we know,” Powers said, “the 4K kids have one llama paid for and are working on a second.”
Still, the project wasn’t over.
School staff donated, too, bringing the total raised to $300 — enough for three llamas.
Throughout, Powers said, she wanted her young pupils to understand that what they were doing was what Jesus asked of everyone.
“Jesus teaches us to be good disciples and help other people the way he did,” she said, “and I wanted the pupils to strive to be more like him.”
Autumne Gee, director of admissions and development for Sacred Heart School and Parish, took the opportunity to ask the youngsters about the project and why they liked doing it.
“The 4K students seemed to gain a good understanding of the great work they did for others,” Gee said. For example, Hyla Pozorski shared her excitement, saying, “I like to help people!”
Livvy Grignon said this service project was a good idea because, “It makes Jesus feel good.”
Lane Brunker picked up on the idea that God’s love is for people all over the world, noting, “God loves all of us. Those people needed clothes and milk.”
The answers showed that the 4-year-olds “got it,” Young said, giving Powers a pat on the back for helping her pupils understand a key concept: “When you do good, it feels good and it spreads,” Young noted. “The students didn’t just do the project because Ms. Powers said. They understood. And it was fun.”
Powers said the success of the Llamas for Love was unexpected, but a blessing.
“It makes me proud,” she said. “I love how the project tied in so many families and brought everyone together. Little people can do big things.”