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Young Philanthropists Learn How To Be Generous In Bradford

Charlotte Albright
Bradford fifth graders (from left) Paige Brammell, Izzac Clogston, Helina Torres-Dindo and Nicky Hawkins display the sign announcing the winner of $500 donated to David's House, a local non-profit for families of sick children.

Charity, some say, begins at home. But in Vermont, it’s also being taught in classrooms. At Bradford Elementary School in the Upper Valley, a philanthropy project has yielded bushels of handmade stuffed animals and plenty of empathy.

Plus, the kids have learned math, public speaking, research skills and even a little bit about democracy.

On a recent sunny Friday afternoon, teams of Bradford students were putting the finishing touches on teddy bears they have cut and sewn out of felt. The bears will go to a local ambulance service, which will give them to children on their way to the hospital. Eight-year-old Morgen Wilson-Collins remembers how a teddy bear helped her calm down after she had her lip stitched after a bite by a bulldog, and she wants to make sure other young patients get similar comfort.

“Because they might not have a teddy bear to sleep with,” she explained,  “and they can’t go to sleep in the night.”

That kind of empathy is not unusual in young people. National studies suggest that nearly 90 percent of children between the ages of eight and 19 give time or money to good causes. They are more likely to do that, though, if adults spell out reasons to be charitable. Teaching philanthropy is the mission of an organization called Inspiring Kids. It was launched about 3 years ago by Amy Neuman, an Upper Valley mother who thought children should learn about non-profit groups serving their communities. Neuman lives abroad now, but her organization has reached out to more than six schools. Bradford’s fifth grade teacher Jessica Loeffler has spent 12 weeks on the wide-ranging project that’s led to the stuffed toy menagerie.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Theron Chandler, a fifth grader at Bradford Elementary School, shows the teddy bear he made for a child who needs to take an ambulance in the Upper Valley.

“Students have gone through a lot of research, they’ve researched non-profits in in the Upper Valley, they’ve presented both within their fifth grade and to the entire school. Now this is culminating in this project, that they’ve brainstormed what we should do to give back to Upper Valley Ambulance,” Loeffler said.

The ambulance service is also one of three non-profits the kids chose to compete for a $500 prize — half collected from local merchants and half from the coffers of Inspiring Kids, which also solicits donations.

At the end of the school day, students filed into the auditorium to hear which non-profit garnered the most votes — the ambulance, a food pantry, or David’s House, a temporary residence for families of kids getting treated at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Two teachers, a musical duo called Wild Roots, strummed a two-tapping processional and told the kids that were going to give a benefit concert that night for the food bank.

"Students have gone through a lot of research, they've researched non-profits in in the Upper Valley ... Now this is culminating in this project, that they've brainstormed what we should do to give back to Upper Valley Ambulance." - Jessica Loeffler, teacher at Bradford Elementary School

A few fifth graders marched to the front of the room holding sign covered with fabric.

“And the winner is … David’s House!” a teacher announced to great applause, as the veil was lifted off the sign.

In giving of their time and talents, the young Bradford donors joined other generous Vermonters. Data from the Chronicle of Philanthropy show charitable contributions in Vermont topping $264 million last year — and the money doesn’t come only from the wealthy benefactors. In fact, the Chronicle’s report shows that people who make under $25,000 a year give a higher percentage of their income to charity than people who make over $200,000.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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