Lessons in Giving
By Melissa S. Labberton
Few scholarships furnished to Heritage University arise from such serendipitous circumstances as did the quaintly named “Mrs. Koreski’s Third-Grade Class Scholarship.” But then, few scholarships result from the hard work of a caring gaggle of 9-year-olds.
The Mrs. Koreski’s Third-Grade Class Scholarship came about in 2008, when a group of Holy Names Academy alumnae were invited to visit Heritage by their classmate, Dr. Kathleen Ross. Among them was Mrs. Koreski herself, known to her friends as Penny, a third-grade teacher from Sacred Heart School, a private Pre-K through 8th grade school in Bellevue, Washington.
During a grand tour of campus, Koreski spoke with quite a few Heritage students and learned that many had gone to extraordinary lengths to finance their college education. It prompted her to wonder how she, and perhaps her own young students, might help. The answer came to her on the trip home: Books! Her class could raise money to establish a scholarship for purchasing books. Not only would Heritage’s students benefit, her own class would learn an important lesson in giving.
Koreski wasted no time proposing the fundraising idea to her 23 third-graders. Although the youngsters knew little to nothing about Heritage University, or even eastern Washington for that matter, they did relate to buying books and so jumped at the chance to help.
One of those third-grade students who is now an eighth-grader, Andrew Simpson, clearly remembers when his teacher introduced the project to her class: “Mrs. Koreski put a big, pink piggy bank on the prayer table and talked about Heritage University and how students there didn’t have a lot of money. She also brought in ceramic bookworms for us to decorate and give to the students who’d get the scholarships.”
Koreski knew that the rainbow colored bookworms would serve as a daily reminder to the children that they were raising money for college students who needed help. The kids were also given a bookkeeping ledger and charged with tracking funds placed in the class piggy bank each day. As the money grew, Mrs. Koreski would deposit it in a bank account.
The class room mother at the time, Kameo Simpson, also Andrew’s mom, recalled students being so excited to raise money that they would give up their allowances, do chores for money and even ask birthday party guests to bring them donations instead of presents. It’s why she and a few other eager parents volunteered endless hours to help raise funds. As the year went on, enthusiasm and philanthropic efforts mushroomed with popcorn sales, car washes, and even matching checks from parents. By the end of the school year, the class had raised an astounding $12,000, and the “Mrs. Koreski’s Third Grade Class Scholarship” was officially established.
Back at Heritage, Dr. Ross—who had initially invited her friend Mrs. Koreski to campus—was thrilled by the children’s accomplishment. And she thought it was important to put a face to the scholarship. So she brought the first Heritage student recipients to Sacred Heart for a chance to meet the children and speak about their educational journey during a scholarship presentation.
One of those first recipients, Mercedez Martinez, said, “When we went to the classroom and the children gave us the bookworms, they were giving from their heart.”
According to Martinez, receiving the scholarship was helpful in piecing together enough funds to graduate. (She completed her business administration and marketing degree in 2011, and went on to work for New York Life Insurance in Sunnyside.) Martinez said she still keeps the ceramic bookworm as a reminder of the kids and their gift.
In the years since, Mrs. Koreski has retired, but many of her students still attending Sacred Heart convinced their subsequent teachers and classrooms to continue supporting the scholarship. This year, as eighth graders, they choose Heritage University once again as the focus of their class fundraising project.
A large number of parents have kept giving as well. In June, many of those kids (including Andrew) will be moving from 8th grade on to high school. But they take with them the lesson of giving they experienced in Mrs. Koreski’s third grade class.
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Andrew. “It’s made me feel really good that I’ve helped these students have a great education.”
Kameo Simpson, hopes to keep up the momentum. She will propose to next year’s sixth-grade class, which includes her daughter, that they pick up where their graduating classmates left off.
Sacred Heart Principal, David Burroughs, believes that raising money for the scholarship helps students understand that not everyone can go to college simply because it is “the thing to do.” Many students have to work very hard in the labor force, as well as academically, to achieve their college education goals. Burroughs is convinced his students have learned that on-going philanthropy, as opposed to one-time gifts, contributes to becoming good stewards of the blessings they’ve received.