The REALTOR® Foundation of Iowa helps people in need across the state. That tradition continues into 2018 with Project Jack, a grant program that gives 4th and 5th graders the opportunity to conduct a project to ‘pay it forward’ in any way their classroom chooses. Each January, teachers across the state can apply for a $250 classroom grant to undertake a project to give back in their community.
In 2018, ten grants were awarded to classrooms in the NWIA region. Participating schools and classroom teachers included:
- Sioux Center Christian School , Sioux Center—Kristi Vander Kooi
- Maple Valley Anthon Oto – Anthon Center—Paula Schram
- Hinton Middle School, Hinton— Matthew Leary
- Sioux Central School, Sioux Central—Marla Huebner
- Hinton Middle School, Hinton—Conor Bertling
- Cherokee Middle School, Cherokee—Sue Nelson
- Lawton -Bronson Community School, Bronson—Patrick Sutton
- Hinton Community School, Hinton—Janell Heimgartner
- Riverside (Sioux City Community Schools), Sioux City—Stacey Verzal
- Sunnyside (Sioux City Community Schools), Sioux City—Julia Cunningham
This year, a project conducted by students in the Hinton Community School District received coverage on regional NBC television affiliate KTIV News on March 28. That class chose to use the grant to support their community’s firefighters.
Sioux City teacher Stacey Verzal and her students used their Project Jack funding as leverage to help a fledgling non-profit group seeking to meet the needs of youth in foster care.
Verzal said, “I asked my class what needs they saw in our community and they brought up many areas of need. They impressed me with their insights—- from homelessness, to abuse, to sickness and so on. One student brought forth the idea of helping foster children because JeNel Baker, a friend of her family, was starting a shop to help foster friends and families. The idea of helping foster families hit near to home for many of my students, as several in our district have found themselves in need of foster care. When this happens, the students are often taken right from school, with only the clothes on their backs.”
Verzal said the group’s initial idea was to give the $250 grant to Baker to help with start up costs for the foster supply shop, but it quickly grew. “We also planned to ask our school community for donations of new and gently used clothing items for children ages 0-18. Our school’s generosity was humbling.”
“Students started making plans and and we brought awareness to the project by sending home information in our school folders and designing posters to display around the building,” said Verzal.
All this work was done in secret, as the students wanted to keep the grant a surprise for JaNel Baker. “I communicated plans for our donations and the big surprise with the student’s mother that helped bring JeNel’s cause to our attention,” said Verzal.
The project then expanded yet again, as the group became aware of a Community Service Grant offered through the Iowa State Education Association. “Both my classroom assistant and her daughter are very active members in the ISEA,” said Verzal, “And with their help, a grant was drafted to apply for an additional $500 to help get the foster shop up and running.”
Donations started pouring in. Boxes and boxes of donations were collected and wrapped to get ready for the surprise reveal to foster care advocate JaNel Baker.
On the day of the surprise, Baker was awarded the grant money and donations through tears of joy. A representative from from the REALTOR® Foundation of Iowa was able to be on hand to capture the special moment.
“I am just amazed by the domino effect of the Project Jack grant from the REALTORS®,” Verzal said. “The students are grateful for so many kind and gracious people who have connected together to help in this cause. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to honor Jack Lindaman’s spirit and “pay-it-forward” through this amazing grant program.
The Project Jack program is named for Jack Lindaman, a student from the Quad Cities area who suffered from spinal muscular atrophy. Jack passed away in February, 2010 at just six years of age. According to curesma.org, “SMA is a disease that robs people of physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat, or breathe. It is the number one genetic cause of death for infants.”
The first Project Jack endeavor was held at Alan Shepard Elementary School in Jack’s honor. The program was expanded by the REALTOR® Foundation of Iowa in 2016 to make “pay-it-forward” grants available to all 4th and 5th grade classrooms in the state.