Mrs. Traub's 5th /6th grade students at Stevenson Elementary School in Elk Grove Village share the gift of having a teacher whose love of reading and books is so immense- other teachers poke fun of her. But her "book addiction" has rubbed off on her students- and during their "40 book reading challenge" this year, the kids read all types of books - including several books on the plight of refugees across the world. One of those books was "They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The true story of three Lost Boys from Sudan" by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak. The book details stories of three young refugees first surviving the long Sudanese Civil War before their long trek to the United States.
For most of Traub's kids, it was the first time they heard about families being torn apart by war and being left in refugee camps with nothing but a few items to get by. They learned that countries around the world, including the United States, open their doors and hearts to refugees every year- to help them build new lives.
The kids were so moved by learning about refugees; they couldn't let it rest. They wanted to help and asked their teacher what they could do to make a difference.
"The final decision to take on a fundraising effort was all theirs," says Mrs. Traub. "I let them know it would require a lot of work and time away from recess as well as before and after school."
"Let's do it," was the resounding response from the kids. And so the 2 months of hard work began.
They chose to work with World Relief, a humanitarian organization that provides help both in the United States and overseas. World Relief helps victims of war and natural disasters obtain refugee status. The Wheaton chapter that the Stevenson kids worked with help refugees from the moment they step off the airplane to their new home here in the U.S. by setting up apartments with all the basics families need.
The kids obtained donations three ways: through a home goods donation drive, a "penny war," and a movie night that was open to everyone.
Donations of necessary items came flooding in from Stevenson families. And each day, the different classrooms and grades competed in penny wars- a fun competition that encouraged kids to bring in loose change and dollar bills. Finally, the fundraising efforts culminated in the long-awaited Movie Night. They obtained the proper permit and showed the movie, Frozen, selling pizza, beverages and bake sale goodies as well as used books. The big surprise of the night is when the Frozen princesses themselves showed up to greet the guests and take photos- a generous donation from a Stevenson family whose high-school daughters attend birthday parties and other celebrations dressed as Ana and Elsa from the movie, Frozen.
On May 20th, Maggie from the Wheaton branch of World Relief came to Stevenson School to pick up the donations. As she stood in the front of Mrs. Traub's classroom, one child after the other explained to her about the books they read, the inspiration that ensued and all of the activities that took place in an effort to make a difference.
And they handed her a giant check. When Maggie saw the amount on the check, her eyes got wide and she covered her mouth in awe. The children raised $1,706.47. In addition, they loaded the World Relief van parked outside with box after box of home goods and bottled water.
"This is what makes it all worth it," says Maggie. She shook hands with each child. "I'm so grateful for each and every one of you."
The kids wouldn't let Maggie leave; they bombarded her with questions about refugees and how they can continue to help. Many expressed an interest in volunteering over the summer with their families doing airport pick-ups or becoming a friendship family- supporting new families settling in America who might feel lost and out of place.
Mrs. Traub's smile was as big as her book collection. "I'm SO proud of these kids."
If you'd like to help refugees, you can find World Relief online at: http://worldrelief.org/.