Win the Inner Battle with Mawi

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How 400 students raised over 750,000 pennies

by Mawi on December 8, 2010

Anyone who works at a school that is experiencing financial challenges needs to read this post.

Six years ago, a middle school of 400 hundreds students read my memoir and decided that they wanted to raise money for refugees.   The school was located in a lower-middle class suburb and it only had 400 students so I have to be honest, I didn’t think they would raise much, particularly when they told me they were going to do a penny drive.  A penny drive is when you put a number of big clear water-cooler containers around a school, and students and staff deposit spare change – pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters – for a specified amount of time.  In this school’s case, it was a month.

One thing I consistently emphasize in my blog, speeches, and books is that the way to do big things is to do the small things.  The students raised over 750,000 pennies which we deposited at the bank for $7,500.  We used the money to help the very same organizations that resettled me when I was first a refugee in this country.

A good friend of mine is a principal at a top 10 Chicago Public High School where the student’s #1 complaint is that their bathrooms are horrible.  Because of the recession, the school does not have the $25,000 it would take to fix the bathrooms.

If 400 middle school students raised 750,000 pennies, how many pennies could 2500 high school students raise?

I’m always amazed at what students and staff can accomplish when the following conditions exist:

1) Leadership: All it takes is one teacher, or one principal, or several teachers and a principal to provide a spark and keep fanning the flames.  In fact, this is almost always how it happens, a few folks who believe in solving problems and making a difference provide the spark that galvanizes all of us.

2) Small Things: We don’t have to solve every problem in the world right now but we can focus on one problem at a time and take little steps that if taken collectively, even for a month, can turn nothing into 750,000.

3) Why: There has to be a powerful, compelling reason for taking action, such as I want to help refugees, or I want to use the toilet without other people watching me.

How about you? Are you a part of an organization or do you know an organization that could do something big with some leadership, a focus on small things, and a clear, compelling reason?

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