“We don’t think that’s fair!”
Such was the reaction of first grade students at Beacon Christian School (BCS) when they learned about the many families in St. Catharines who can’t afford to live in a house.
Determined to help out, students partnered with Habitat for Humanity—a Christian housing ministry that seeks to build decent, affordable homes for those very families.
For Grade 1 teacher at BCS, Wilma Harris, it wasn’t just a matter of raising money for a good cause. She wanted her students to know where their dollars and cents would go, and how that money would help families who don’t have a house to call their own. That’s how the class arrived at some of the questions driving their campaign: How many nails would it take to build a home? What would that cost?
In a conversation with a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Harris learned that a whopping 20,000 nails (each one priced at five cents) typically goes in to building just one average sized house.
The number was somewhat discouraging, but Harris believed that even a small contribution would be worth the effort. “We thought we would simply make a dent and raise some money,” she said.
Fortunately, that ‘dent’ turned out to be larger than her initial goal. Harris and her students succeeded in raising $1,146—enough money to purchase 22, 933 nails.
“They worked hard for their money,” she said. Students set out doing chores for their families and neighbourhoods. She began finding dimes and quarters on her desk, often accompanied with notes that said “I swept the floor” or “I shoveled the driveway”.
But perhaps the most important part of the students’ “Change for Nails” campaign was the four minute video they made (with help from their teacher and her educational assistant) inviting the community to partner with them in their efforts.
Each student—the nervous, the confident and the camera shy—has a line in the movie. Some don plastic hard hats and avoid looking directly at the camera, others explain their mission to viewers with breathless excitement.
The video was well received at Smithville Christian High School (SCHS) where Harris’s students sold ring pops and Chicago mix for the cause. Many SCHS teenagers were happy to donate— including those who didn’t buy treats. “Students were amazed by that” said Harris.
A week before showing the video at their own school chapel, the first grade students delivered “Seeking Justice With Nails” posters to every classroom.
Eventually, the school and its surrounding community raised enough money to warrant a visit from Habitat for Humanity volunteers. The occasion served as the perfect opportunity for the class to present the organization with a jumbo sized check for $1,146.
Habitat for Humanity will use funds to buy the nails needed to construct a home. Students can look forward to seeing pictures of the structure as it develops.
“We plan to get on a bus to check out this house before the end of the year,” said Harris.
She couldn’t ask for a better outcome, given the motivation that initially sparked her campaign.
“I wanted to choose an issue for which the first grade children could see the impact they could make. I mean every dollar could purchase 20 nails … that’s a lot for a first grader!”
Harris’s project comes out of the school’s recent emphasis on justice seeking, during which students at BCS wrestled with instances of brokenness in the world, like hunger, prejudice, and lack of health care in certain countries—classes explored realities that they found unjust or unfair and talked about ways to confront those problems.
“We pray for God’s nearness in all the situations of injustice in our schools, homes, playgrounds and in the world around us,” wrote a BCS blogger in an entry about the week.
Harris hopes that this year’s “Change for Nails” campaign will have a lasting impact on each child’s character formation. As they continue to work for good in their community, she said she’d like to see them do three things along the way: “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God”.