“Should we make the world a better place?” asks Joseph Audia, a fourth grade teacher at Cherry Creek Elementary School, to the students gathered before him.
In the next 20 minutes, the Cherry Creek Early Act group will dole out loans to entrepreneurs on three continents and talk about how to help their building achieve Emerald School designation as part of the conservation-minded Michigan Green Schools program. On other weeks, they have worked on efforts to purchase learning aids for their school, gather food for Flat River Outreach Ministries and increase awareness of polio eradication efforts worldwide.
The Early Act group is proof that, as Audia says, “Kids can be a vehicle for change in the world.”
Haiti Earthquake Spurs Action
Since 2011, Audia has been helping students make a global impact right from their classroom on Foreman Street. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was what initially spurred the group to action. “The students were going to do something with or without me,” Audia remembers.
At that time, there was no Early Act group. Instead, it was just Audia and his students raising money to buy water filters to send to country which saw hundreds of thousands dead or displaced after a devastating earthquake.
It so happened that the Lowell Rotary Club was planning a trip to Haiti around the same time Audia’s class finished their project. Rotary members offered to deliver the water filters on behalf of Cherry Creek students, and a partnership between the club and school followed.
Audia, along with fellow teacher Jill Connor, now lead the Early Act group at Cherry Creek Elementary School. With support from the Lowell Rotary Club, the group meets every Tuesday during the school’s second recess to take action that will benefit their school, community and world.
Three Goals for Each Year
The Early Act program is sponsored by Rotary International as a way to get elementary students interested and involved in improving their world – both locally and globally. “[Everything] we do, we want to have some element of education,” Audia explains
Each year, the group participates in at least three projects: one with school impact, one with community impact and one with world impact. At Cherry Creek Elementary School, the group has filled that mission in the following ways during the 2017-2018 school year:
- School Impact: Raising money for “whisper phones” which are used use to promote literacy and reading skills.
- Community Impact: Coordinating the FROM Food Fight program at Cherry Creek Elementary with assistance from the high school Interact group.
- World Impact: Selling goods at a school Early Act Store to raise money for micro-loans around the world.
“We don’t have a student council at this building so these kids fill some of that role,” Audia says. Anywhere from 15-40 students will attend a typical meeting. Held during the 4th and 5th graders second recess of the day, Audia and Connor understand it can be hard to give up recess every week. However, members generally commit to come to at least half the meeting.
Micro-Lending Across the Globe
At those meetings, students brainstorm new ideas, make plans for fundraisers or do what they did on a recent Tuesday afternoon: hand out money to aspiring entrepreneurs across the globe.
The club makes micro-loans of $25 through the website Kiva.org. The money goes to people in less developed countries who are working to improve their lives. “It’s not a hand-out,” Audia says. Instead, the money funds projects that will allow recipients to build a business, make money and repay the loan.
It goes to people like a man in Kenya who wants to sell solar panels. Or a woman in Senegal who wants to buy cosmetics and dishes wholesale and sell them door-to-door to support herself and her daughter. One Early Act participant honed in on her story and clicked the button to send $25 toward her business plan. Other students in the classroom loaned money to people in Rwanda, Burma, El Salvador and Vietnam.
So far, the Cherry Creek Early Act group has made $14,775 in mico-loans through Kiva, and with very few exceptions, all that money has been paid back. Then, they loan it out to other endeavors to help improve lives elsewhere on the globe. All told, money from the Early Act group has touched the lives of people in 80 different countries.
“I am most proud of their sincere caring for others,” Audia says. “It’s not fake. It’s pure, clean, unselfish.”
“No agenda,” Connor adds. While older students may pursue volunteer activities because it will look good on college applications or a resume, the Cherry Creek Elementary School students have no ulterior motive.
They want to be involved in the group for one simple reason says 4th grader Connor Rapson: “Cause you can help the world.”
Visit the Cherry Creek Early Act website for more information about the group and their projects. Plus, if you’d like to join the efforts at Kiva, the Lowell Red Arrows for LIFE Lending Team was created to track all lending coming from the community.