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Students & staff work on acts of kindness
A banner announcing the reason for the student assembly in the Joshua Cowell School courtyard on Friday waves prominently on stage. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin

One little candle can brighten up a whole world of darkness. And one act of kindness, however infinitesimal, can make a humongous difference.

Joshua Cowell School students and staff saw that kind of charity in action during the last two weeks when everyone was mobilized to take part in Joshua Cowell WE Day (WE Make a Difference).

“The goal is that every person, student or staff, participates, and that we see that when everyone pulls together, great things can happen. Anyone can make a difference, and the time to start is now,” said Joshua Cowell Principal Bonnie Bennett.

“At school, we have been proactive about community service” for which they have been recognized recently by the Manteca Unified School District and others, she explained.

Most recently, Joshua Cowell was invited to “the great WE Day celebration at Oracle Arena in Oakland honoring schools for their community service.” About 20,000 leadership students from all over attended the event.

Here, in a nutshell, is the story behind each of the WE Make a Difference project tackled by each grade level as described by Bennett:

uPRESCHOOL: The students collected new or gently used toys or clothing for the United Cerebral Palsy. Their motivation — to donate to UCP because of the students has a sibling who struggles with cerebral palsy. All in all, the class collected six large bags of items.

uKINDERGARTEN: The class collected cat and dog food which they gave to the Delta Humane Society. The reason behind their choice — their teacher saw an article in the paper which reported that the Delta Humane Society was not getting enough donations to support the animals in their care. “The students wanted to bring in food for the animals because they are cute and fuzzy like kindergartners,” Bennett said. The students collected 108 cans of cat food and five large bags of both cat and dog food.

uGRADE 1: The first graders collected school supplies that they donated to Calvary Community Church to distribute to needy families. The students chose to do this because one of the teachers involved in this church project. Collected and donated to the church were four big boxes of school supplies.

uGRADE 2: For Haven of Peace and Children’s Shelter in French Camp, the second graders collected children’s books, new or gently used. Their motivation — the children at Haven of Peace have little or no access to books or at their new homes when they leave. The students wanted to help foster a love of reading and open up the world to them. The students collected more than 1,000 books to donate. They also plan to collect toys and school supplies for the children there.

uGRADE 3: The third graders decided to collect diapers, wipes and laundry detergent for HOPE Family Shelter in Manteca. HOPE Family Shelter has housed students of Joshua Cowell, so they wanted to help them, Bennett explained. The students collected more than 1,200 diapers, 5,000 wipes, eight containers of laundry detergent, and 84 other baby items.

uSPECIAL EDUCATION CLASS: The students in this class chose to donate new and gently used books for Mary Graham Hall because the children here “don’t have many things to call their own.” Collected were 400 books.

uGRADE 4: A parking yard sale at Joshua Cowell School generated $738.50 which was given to ASPCA. The class chose to help the Society because the classes read the book “Shiloh,” which dealt with cruelty to animals. They wanted to help protect and care for animals.

uGRADE 5: The class chose to support Fava Day, an organization that helps children with cancer at the Merced Children’s Hospital. They collected five items to be auctioned off which earned the non-profit organization $326. Change brought in by students ($401) was added to that for a grand total of $726. The students selected Fava Day because one of the teachers is involved in the organization, and another teacher has a son who has battled cancer. The teachers thought this was a great way for the students to help other children in need.

uGRADE 6: The students selected to donate to the Ronald McDonald House in Sacramento by collecting pop tabs from soda pop cans. They chose Ronald McDonald because so many families are touched by cancer, and they wanted to support it to help families with sick children.

uGRADE 7: The class conducted a Protein Drive (tuna, beef jerky, peanut butter) for St. Paul’s Food Pantry, a local food bank. They chose to have a Protein Drive so the food bank would have plenty of protein to help the needy. Since protein products are usually expensive, they wanted to help out the Food Pantry with these food items. They collected 138 protein items.

uGRADE 8: The students chose Agape Village Family Agency in Manteca. The students wanted to have needy students come to school prepared to learn. They collected 12 boxes full of pencils, paper, markers, highlighters, rulers, glue sticks and crayons.

uJOSHUA COWELL STAFF: They conducted a “packaged underwear” drive, along with cash donations to purchase additional underwear for the JC Clothes Closet. “The staff chose this project because we have seen a need at school for underwear. We do get donations for outside layers of clothing, but also wanted to have new underwear available to the students,” Bennett said. Collected were 30 packages of underwear.

The beginning of WE Day

The Joshua Cowell WE Day project kicked off April 25, with the culminating presentations made on May 16 during a school assembly on the “peace full” courtyard. Attending were representatives of the non-profit organizations that received the children’s Make a Difference contributions.

To launch the Make a Difference effort on kick-off day, several speakers ages 9 to 65 were invited to give inspirational talks to the students about the things that motivated them to make a difference. Even the official WE Day people, sponsored by actor Martin Sheen, sent Joshua Cowell a special video message wishing everyone at school a successful project. Inspired by all these motivational talks, each grade level of students then faced the challenge of deciding in what manner the entire grade level can make a difference. The fourth graders did not need a long time ruminating on what they wanted to do. They already made up their minds about holding a school parking lot sale with the proceeds going to ASPCA, the American Society whose goal is to prevent cruelty to animals.

Even the school staff members were motivated to get involved. They collected new underwear for the school clothes closet.

To the Joshua Cowell School staff, a highly impressed and deeply moved Joe Fagundes, who belongs to a nonprofit group that supports the Madera Children’s Hospital, told the assembled school staff, “You’ve done a tremendous job here.”

To the Cowell students, Fagundes said, “When you give from your heart, you feel good. Every one of you are heroes.”

Janiah Twiggs, who was designated to talk about the second graders’ project, wrapped up the one important lesson each Cowell student learned from the two-week project in one short sentence: “We learned that one small act can make a difference.”