One link at a time | South Whidbey students band together for Oso

Dublin De Wilde, Macie Vande Werforst, India Balora, E.J. Ting and Max Tarantino reach for the colorful rubber bands. The students in Leslie Woods’ second-grade class are making jewelry to benefit residents of the Oso community through the American Red Cross.  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Dublin De Wilde, Macie Vande Werforst, India Balora, E.J. Ting and Max Tarantino reach for the colorful rubber bands. The students in Leslie Woods’ second-grade class are making jewelry to benefit residents of the Oso community through the American Red Cross.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

When South Whidbey Elementary School second-grade teacher Leslie Woods saw money exchanging hands during recess last week, her red flags went up.

“That’s a big ‘no no’ around here,” she said.

But what she found was more Red Cross than red flags.

Her students, Syah Benjamin and Niki Taylor, were making rubber-band bracelets and selling them to raise money for Oso residents — an idea they hatched completely on their own.

It was an act that immediately touched Woods; not just because they were raising money, but that they were doing it without direction from adults.

“I am so proud of them,” she said. “They’re so motivated.”

For Syah and Niki, making the bracelets was a way to show they cared about the families impacted by the Oso mudslide.

“I saw the sad news and wanted to help,” Niki, 7, said. “I feel sad people were hurt; super sad about their homes, beds, everything they had. I was heartbroken when I saw this.”

The news hit home for Syah, 8, whose great-uncle’s home was hundreds of feet from being destroyed by the mudslide.

“It was right outside his house,” she said. “He can’t get outside his driveway and his basement is flooded with water. I was really sad.”

Woods notified her students’ parents of the project by email, including Syah’s mom, Megan Benjamin, who heard about it for the first time. The email mentioned one of the students’ uncle is part of Oso community.

“I wondered ‘how many students have uncles up there?’ ” Benjamin said. “She hadn’t said anything about it. I asked her ‘Syah, are you doing a fundraiser?’ ”

Syah then revealed to her mom her good Samaritan efforts and what she was doing with all those bracelets.

Benjamin said her family was deeply moved about Syah and the other students’ actions as well. They’re doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts; even though it’s a small amount it all adds up and they’re really grateful, she said of her family.

“I knew that she felt connected with what was happening,” Benjamin said. “It made me feel so proud that she would have that type of compassion as a young girl.”

Syah and Niki originally had their own goal of raising $50, but that number was surpassed after just one week of fundraising ­— their goal is now $300. The money raised will be given to the American Red Cross for Oso residents.

“It brings to my heart a big bundle of joy,” Niki said of how big the fundraiser has become.

After the email, parents started sending money to the fund and nine more students joined the effort.

The classmates started bringing their own rubber-band kits to help, and giving up their recess and free time to make the jewelry.

For 8-year-old Macie Vande Werfhorst, the project is a fun way to show support and participate in one of her favorite activities.

“I love making arts and crafts and helping out,” she said. “I like doing this for everyone.”

Woods was happy to see so many other students join.

“Everywhere they go they’re either making or selling,” Woods said.

The project has impacted the students in a way Woods didn’t expect. When the tragic mudslide happened, Woods decided she wouldn’t bring it up in class because the students were so young. But many had heard about the event through the news, and after they started fundraising it became part of the classroom environment.

Each morning, Woods leads a class meeting where students discuss compassion and generosity in their community.

“Now they’re living that kindness through their actions,” she said. “It feels so grown up to me that they’ve taken on this responsibility.”

One of the lessons Woods has been teaching her students throughout the year is the value of community.

The students started out small, discussing the community within the classroom, and Woods expanded the idea of community little by little, from the school to Langley. But with this project, the idea of community has already reached to a global scale for the kids.

“They’ve already jumped to the next level, it’s exciting,” she explained.

Through this project, Woods hopes the joy of giving will drive students to donate more in the future.

She said she was inspired by her students and how good this project made them feel. With each donation, the students quickly calculate their new total and eagerly say the amount out loud in unison.

“$171.10!” they said together when asked how much they’ve raised so far.

“They’re really motivated. I’m completely motivated by them,” Woods said.


Student fundraiser

Contact to stop by the classroom for a piece of jewelry or leave a donation at the front desk.

Send checks to Ms. Woods’ 2nd grade class: c/o SWES, 5380 Maxwelton Road, Langley, WA 98260. Make checks to the American Red Cross.


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