Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert works as the Editor of Discover Muscatine Newspaper.

Muscatine Living

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Sometimes it only takes a good idea and a little help to make a big difference in the community. Thanks to three Project Jack micro-grants, students in three Jefferson fourth grade classes have completed service projects allowing them to write birthday cards for 912 children hospitalized on their birthdays at regional hospitals and create approximately 30 blankets for children in foster care.

In late fall of 2021, Laura McDonald spoke to her class about doing a service project through Project Jack, a program through the Iowa Association of Realtors that provides $250 micro-grants to fourth and fifth grade classes in Iowa to pay it forward in their community. The students expressed enthusiasm for doing a project and brainstormed ideas for what they could do. After students narrowed down the possibilities to their top three, they selected a project suggested by student Arieana Spain, writing birthday cards to children in the hospital. “I thought it was a good idea because a lot of kids in the hospital, especially ones who are very sick, their parents can’t visit them a lot, so I thought it would be nice to send them cards,” she explained.

After having their application for a Project Jack approved, they ordered as many cards as they could afford and collected stickers donated by Jefferson teachers and staff members to put in them. Students hand wrote a birthday message in each and stuffed them with a sticker, getting them ready to go to the hospital.

April 19, UnityPoint Trinity Muscatine Hospital Administrative Assistant Angie Koppe visited McDonald’s class to pick up the cards. Koppe shared that she will deliver 500 of the cards to UnityPoint Trinity Muscatine Hospital as well as UnityPoint’s other regional hospitals in Bettendorf, Moline, Illinois, and Rock Island, Illinois. “We’re really super grateful that the kids chose us to receive the cards,” Koppe said. “I think it’s great to have the cards to give kids on their birthdays.” McDonald plans to deliver the remainder of the cards to the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

A true group effort, McDonald felt pleased that her students cared so much about their community that they would take the time to write so many birthday cards. “To me, it’s one of those important life lessons that trumps academics, learning empathy and thinking about how you can give back to the community at a young age,” she shared.

Just down the hall, students in Cara Shepherd and Shelly Noel’s classes received Project Jack grants of their own to allow them to make tie blankets for children in foster care. Shepherd explained that her students decided to do a project helping foster children because they wanted to help them not feel as lonely and frightened when they had to move unexpectedly, oftentimes without taking anything with them.

Students worked at stations to create the blankets, with a student supervising the work to make sure each step got done correctly: “The kids did a great job taking it seriously–I think they understood that kids in the district will benefit from it. It was a lesson in empathy,” she observed.

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