Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Worth every penny

AES student, grandfather generously donate 40-year-old coin collection to fundraiser

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One Acton Elementary student is proving that every penny really does count after she donated 31,000 pennies to the three-week campus-wide Penny War that ended Friday, Feb. 2.

PENNY WAR

In the Penny War, students at AES, Brawner Elementary School and STEAM Academy at Mambrino dug through couch cushions and piggy banks as they searched for pennies to donate to the second-annual event.

"Last year we raised about $6,100,” AES Principal Maggie Walton told the HCN. “Honestly, I'd looked into different kinds of penny drives or coin drives and found the idea for the Penny War, which I thought our students would take an interest in just because it's competitive and kind of puts a twist on a normal coin drive. We did it last year and had such incredible success that we were like, ‘Well, we'll do that again.’”

Unlike a coin drive, a penny war focuses primarily on pennies, where one penny equals one point, $1 equals 100 points and $5 equals 500 points. Additionally, silver coins count against each class, as a nickel would subtract five points from the class total, a dime would subtract 10 points and a quarter would subtract 25.

“It's so funny how it works because it's like an adding and subtracting game,” AES kindergarten teacher Serena Rivera said. “The silver coins count against you, but then the bottom line is you raise a lot of money because kids are bringing in silver coins from other classes to try to help your class go down and their class to win. They really get into it.”

While the students were excited to participate in the Penny War — especially because the class with the most points earned a pizza party — the activity also allowed them to raise money for a great cause: The Beau Bear Foundation.

BEAU BEAR FOUNDATION

The Beau Bear Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reach and bless grieving families after the tragic and sudden loss of a child, according to beaubearfoundation.com. Founded by a family that has walked through its own loss, the foundation was born out of compassion and the conviction to help others who are dealing with emotional trauma. The Beau Bear Foundation provides financial aid, household essentials and additional emotional support and resources.

Founder Alicia Mills explained that she lost her son in 2020. Feeling compelled by God, her husband voiced his idea about starting a foundation for families who have also been affected by the loss of a child.

“We were just blown away by the church, school and community,” Alicia said. “I mean, they just showed up for us. We were still new to the Granbury area and so I think we were just blown away by people just showing up and being the hand of Jesus. (My husband) said, ‘We need to do this. We need to duplicate this to families who maybe might not have this same support, or the financial help or the resources.’ It's been slow because this is brand new for us, but we find families that need help in these situations. It's probably two or three families at least a week from all over the nation.”

Alicia said she provides one-on-one phone calls with parents or grandparents who need that emotional support during the grieving process.

“Really, I get to cry with parents, walk them through, pray with them, and I think that's one of the things that surprised me,” she said. “I didn't grieve where I wanted to talk to anybody, but I'm finding that a lot of people do and now being on the other side of it, and now we're about four years out, I've been able to walk this grieving process. I'm still fairly new to it, but I made it to the other side, and I'm OK, so I think for people to hear that gives them some hope.”

The Beau Bear Foundation also provides families with resources like counseling options and collaborates with funeral homes to help pay bills following a funeral. The foundation also assists families with hospital, electricity and grocery bills, as well as car payments.

"(We help with) a little bit of everything,” Alicia said. “What they need to make it through is what we try to help with.”

As Alicia’s son was also an AES student, the Beau Bear Foundation meant even more to Walton, which is why she chose their organization to be the Penny War beneficiary.

“Our family knows them from church, but they are also a GISD (Granbury Independent School District) family, so in addition to it being just an incredible cause, they also are an Acton Elementary and GISD family, so they're extra important to us,” Walton said. “The Beau Bear Foundation has been able to help over 15 families in Hood County, families who've lost a child to an accidental death of some sort, so we just kind of feel like it's a really cool way to support a foundation that's obviously close to one of our families, but also that serves families in our community.”

ABOVE AND BEYOND

While many students took part in the Penny War, one student went above and beyond the work of a kindergartener, as she chose to enlist the help of her grandfather who — unbeknownst to her — had been collecting coins for more than 40 years.

Mallory Barker was excitedly telling her great-grandparents about the fundraiser during her great-grandfather’s 85th birthday, when her grandpa, Keith Hurlburt, overheard and revealed he had a huge jar full of coins he had been collecting for decades.

“As a small child, my dad always had this little five-gallon water jug in his bedroom or in his closet, and it's something that I still have memories of,” Kristie Barker, Mallory’s mom, told the HCN. “He would just come home and empty out his pockets because back then everyone paid with cash and he would just take his loose change and dump it into this little five-gallon jug and as a little girl, I used to sneak quarters out of it to get ice cream.”

Kristie said once they got to her dad’s house in Saginaw, Mallory and sister Shelby had fun dumping out the coins to search for the pennies — finding old putt-putt coins and Chuck E. Cheese coins in the process.

“I told my dad, ‘Dad, you've had this jug of coins literally since before I was born. Are you sure you don't want to keep it and take it to the bank?’” Kristie Barker told the HCN. “And he's like, ‘No, absolutely not. It's for a good cause. I'm not doing anything with it anyway. It's just sitting in my room all these years and it's almost too full for me to add any more change to it, so I'd rather you guys take it and use it for the fundraiser.’”

After the sorting was finally completed, Kristie Barker and her husband, Michael, realized that Mallory’s grandfather had collected approximately 31,000 pennies over the years, with the jar weighing a whopping 130.6 pounds and holding over $300 worth of pennies.

"Once we had sorted everything, we Googled what the average weight of a penny was to try to see how many there were, and we guesstimated there was probably about 31,000 pennies in the container which is roughly $310,” Kristie Barker said. “Mallory was really excited and it's funny because that was all on a Saturday, and she did not want to take the jug to school. The Penny War ended the following Friday, and she wanted to wait to take the jug of pennies to school until Friday at lunchtime. She wanted it to be a secret."

Little by little, Mallory would take small bags of pennies every day during the week provided by her great-grandparents, Memaw and Papaw, all the while knowing the big donation would be revealed at the end of the week.

"On Friday she was like, ‘Will you please bring the jug of pennies up during my lunch break?’ so we wheeled it in on a dolly in the middle of lunch and everyone's jaws dropped and it was a really fun experience for her to be able to show off what my dad had donated,” Kristie said.

“You have those moments when you’re principal where you're just kind of overcome by how incredible your kids are and how incredible your families are,” Walton said. “It's just an amazing story and for Mallory, at her age in kindergarten, too, for it to be important to her and for her to share that with her family and for it to touch them, was one of those moments where it's like, ‘That is so cool,’ just the reach that we get to have as a school."

"When they were wheeling in the giant jug full of pennies, Mallory was like, ‘I'm gonna save the day,’” Mrs. Rivera, Mallory’s teacher, said. “She wanted her class to win the pizza party. The enthusiasm is unmatched in kindergarten. The competition had been neck and neck like all week, and everybody kind of thought they knew who was gonna win, and then they came in with that at the last minute and pushed our class over the edge, so we won. I love that the grandparents were involved and that it was something special.”

Alicia said the generosity of Mallory’s grandfather speaks volumes to his character and his heart, as he chose to donate his entire coin collection to the Beau Bear Foundation.

“Just the generosity, I mean, 40 years is a long time to collect something, so for him to be an example to his grandchild and say, ‘You know what? This matters and what they're doing matters, and this is where I want to choose to give this money,’ like it was just a really neat example of generosity, and leaving a legacy about what it looks like to give something that means something to you, but to be generous and offer it to somebody else,” she said. “It's really amazing when a group of people come here and give a little bit each and see what an impact you can make. We didn't ask someone to give a giant amount, but everyone just brought what they could, and we're going to be able to help multiple families with what they've given. It's a really great example of teamwork when you come together as a community and pitch in to learn what an impact you can make, not just for us, but just in any situation like that.”

With Mallory’s last-minute donation, her class officially won the pizza party with a total of 32,632 points in the Penny War.

"Mallory knows that it's a lot of pennies, but I don't think she truly understands the impact of what she did, or you know, just how thoughtful that was,” Kristie Barker said. “It's funny because I told my dad, ‘Now, this isn't just like a one-time thing. This is like an every year thing, so how are you going to top this next year?’ He's like, ‘Well, I guess I need to start going and getting like $20 worth of pennies every Friday now.'"

AES officially raised $5,180 just through the Penny War alone. However, Walton added that students will also raise funds through Valograms, Valentine’s Day candygrams. Both donation totals will be presented in a large check to the Beau Bear Foundation Friday, March 1.

“One of my biggest goals, obviously, is for our kids to leave here and to have a strong academic foundation, but it's so much more than that,” Walton said. “It really is teaching them how to be good humans and have empathy for one another, so we're constantly doing different kinds of fundraisers. It's typically not money. Right now, we just transitioned out of the Penny War, and we are now collecting pop tabs that will go to the Ronald McDonald House. One of our kindergarten teachers, she's actually been out on maternity leave because her son is in the NICU, and he probably will be for a long period of time. We're always looking for ways to kind of create awareness with our kids, and when it goes to a cause that hits close to home or that is addressing a need that there is locally, it just makes it extra special.”

Rivera said Mallory’s donation added a special touch to a situation that is near and dear to everyone’s heart.

“We've had losses here at AES And it's just really sweet when kids go all out like that, and their families get involved because that's what it's all about,” she said. “That unites everybody, and I've had so many kids come by and ask me, ‘Do you still have the jug?’ They're small but mighty. They don't even know the influence that they have. It's amazing.”

Rivera added that even now, her students are continuing to save pennies — even though the Penny War is over.

"It'll probably forever change how they see things,” she added. “That even the smallest things can make the biggest difference to somebody when we all come together.”

To learn more about the Beau Bear Foundation, visit beaubearfoundation.com online.