The students saw the sign every day as they filed into Seattle’s Broadview Thomson K-8 school: “We support our Muslim & immigrant families.” It was the time just before the Christmas holidays, and just after a bruising election season in which immigration had been an especially contentious issue. So, for this highly diverse student body who speak 37 languages among them, the message took on special meaning.
That’s when three 7th graders decided they wanted to do something to help. But what? At 13 years old, what could they possibly do?
Julissa Fonseca, Janeth Hernandez, and Daniella Mendez approached language teacher Kelli Spann and asked for help to get started on researching nonprofit organizations.
They gave up their lunch period for a month to spend time in Ms. Spann’s classroom, reading about the issues and selecting a well-established local charitable organization. They concluded that Refugees Northwest would be their cause. In short order, the girls realized that many immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers start out with next to nothing, lacking even the basic personal hygiene items to get through a week. That didn’t seem right.
“We felt like we had to come up with ideas to make things better. Lots of immigrant families have young children who have to start working at a young age. Some people just don’t have what they need. We wanted to help people,” said Daniella.
So, the girls dispatched donation boxes all over the school, spoke to nearly 25 different classes about the reasons behind their project and their goals, and asked other kids to help. “We felt so excited and happy!” Julissa explained. Within two weeks, they’d stuffed 11 big boxes and not long afterward, they had the items organized and were ready to make delivery to Refugees NW.
“I was really proud of them, and I saw some really neat leadership skills,” said Ms. Spann. “They were so thorough in their research, from understanding the hardship of immigration and the experience of refugees to finding an excellent nonprofit organization to work with. They’ve learned a lot about life attending a school with such a diverse group of kids. They’re pretty special.”
“We really felt like all the students pulled together,” Janeth explained. “It felt really good, just what we wanted. I mean, if you think for a minute about what other people are going through and you know you can make it a little easier for them, why wouldn’t you?”
If you would like to follow the girls’ lead, we at Refugees Northwest want to invite you to gather your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors to launch a personal hygiene supply drive of your own. It’s easy and putting it all together is fun! The list of items people most urgently need is right here.
Sometimes, leadership comes from the expansive hearts of three 13-year old girls whose eyes sparkled a little brighter and whose horizons were a bit broader after their project. They see themselves as part of the world’s great mosaic, just like the display at the front door of their school.
Now that they’ve completed what was a three-month project, would they do it again?
“Yes!” they shouted in unison, and then dissolved into giggles together. Refugees Northwest can’t wait to see what these young leaders do next.