Lessons in Giving at Evans Middle School

McKINNEY, Texas – If grades were awarded for compassion, the students at Evans Middle School would get an A+. In bright red ink, at the top of the page, with an exclamation mark. Underlined for emphasis.

McKINNEY, Texas – If grades were awarded for compassion, the students at Evans Middle School would get an A+. In bright red ink, at the top of the page, with an exclamation mark. Underlined for emphasis.

Of late, they have taken kind-hearted sentiment and put it into real-world action to combat childhood cancer and teen poverty. During the month of February, the campus has raised more than $8,000 for cancer research and collected more than 7,000 pairs of jeans for teenagers in need. Their willingness to take action is a reminder that empathy is powerful when we put it to work.

Destiny & Olivia

On the afternoon of February 7, students, teachers and supporters gathered at Evans Middle School in remembrance of Destiny Camacho and Olivia Jones, two students lost to childhood cancer last year. Undeterred by chill winds and overcast skies, the crowd of more than 300 circled the track, lap after lap, to earn pledge money for Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer, a non-profit organization dedicated to cancer research. Some raised pledges individually while others walked in teams, but all contributed to an urgent cause.

“When the walk began, I started to cry, looking at the 300-plus students, teachers, families and businesses that showed up to support this cause,” said Kimberly Church, National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) sponsor and teacher at Evans Middle School. “It meant a lot to me...it meant a lot to a lot of people.”

Girls at Walk for Destiny and Olivia Event.Evans Middle School students (l-r) Erin Zielke, Liza de Alba, Malvika Kumar, Maya Eldin, Tram Tran and Kristin Wooters walked in honor of Destiny Camacho and Olivia Jones.

The idea to put on the event came from Evans Middle School 8th graders Evan Shipley and Ryan Bagby. When considering options for their NJHS Presidential service project, they decided that what they really wanted to do was to continue the fight against cancer for the friends that they had lost. So, the two young men organized “Walk for a Cure in Memory of Destiny and Olivia.” For about a month, students collected sponsorship pledges for a 5 mile walk. The goal was $2,000.

A few weeks later, Shipley and Bagby were walking among hundreds of their peers around the Evans Middle School track, pleased that so many people were supporting the cause. “We love the turnout!” they said.

Evan Shipley and Ryan Bagby at Evans Middle School benefit walk.Evans 8th graders (l-r) Evan Shipley and Ryan Bagby helped organize the event.

The family of Olivia Jones was among those taking part in the walk. “When we learned of the walk for Olivia and Destiny, her dad and I were so touched by the generosity and maturity that the kids demonstrated in orchestrating this event,” said Olivia Jones’ mother, Kandis Jones. “Olivia would be so pleased to find that she had been remembered by her friends and peers as they graduated through their lives. Hopefully this event will plant the seed for more opportunities to help others in the future.”

“It’s a good way to honor the girls’ legacy and for our students to do something selfless,” said Church.

Evans Middle School benefit walkers.Olivia Jones' family at the walk.

 

Student in boot at walk.Committed to the cause.

When the time came to collect pledge money, Church experienced a moment of disbelief. “When my NJHS officers told me the final count this morning I made them re-count it,” she said. “When they confirmed it, I told them to re-count it again, because I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. But it was confirmed again. Evans Middle School, in the name of our beloved friends Destiny and Olivia came together and raised $8,469 for the fight against childhood cancer.” 

Evans Middle School will present the check to Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer on Tuesday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m. during the NJHS Induction Ceremony at Evans Middle School.

 

Teens for Jeans

Around the same time that Shipley and Bagby were organizing the benefit walk, fellow 8th grader and NJHS member Maya Eldin came across Teens for Jeans at dosomething.org.

Teens for Jeans is a contest that challenges students to donate used jeans for teenagers in need across the country. “I thought, hey, our school could benefit from [participating in] this,” Eldin said. But, the contest had already been underway for two weeks by the time she discovered the opportunity, so any chance at winning would take a major effort. Nevertheless, Eldin had confidence in her school, and with the support of her peers, the collecting began.

Jeans collected by Evans Middle School students.Some of the 7,331 pairs of jeans that students at Evans Middle School collected.

As word got out and the jeans began to pile up, more and more students took notice. “Students will walk by the door and they will [say], ‘Whoa, there’s a lot of jeans in there!’” said 8th grader Patrick Oliver. Travis Jones, also an 8th grader, described the reaction of most students as “awed.” Other campuses began to contribute, and the total kept rising...and rising...and rising, until Evans Middle School was sitting on a mountain of more than 7,000 pairs of donated jeans.

The school that jumped in late found itself a contender to win the nationwide contest.

But, even with some significant prizes at stake for the winning school -- a free pair of Aéropostale® jeans for each student, a school-wide party, and $5,000 -- the kids kept things in proper perspective. Jones said that it would be great if his school won. “But, also the fact that [we’re] helping kids that are less fortunate than us. We really...we take it for granted, I guess,” he said. “We don’t realize how lucky we are to have a family that loves us, clothes on our back and a dinner at the end of every day. We don’t realize how lucky we are to have that. And there are kids out there that are less fortunate -- that sadly, they don’t have that. And, so we just wanted to help them I guess.”

Evans Middle School students with collected jeans.Evans Middle School students (l-r) Sweta Gautam, Patrick Oliver, Cole Hatcher, Travis Jones, Maya Eldin and Tanya Correa. Maya Eldin proposed the idea of participating in Teens for Jeans.

Church saw firsthand the impact that the contest had on her students’ outlook. “When the students quit seeing the jeans as jeans and started seeing each pair of jeans as a person, they had already won…they had won the hearts of their community and nation. They didn’t just collect 7,331 pairs of jeans; they helped 7,331 people and became infected with the desire to give selflessly, and there is no prize in the world that can be put on that.”

 Evans Middle School Principal Todd Young was impressed with the way his students came together to help others. “Watching what happened with Teens for Jeans and the Cancer Benefit Walk was incredible to see,” he said. “In both events students came to me with the idea and they found a sponsor and they did the work. It demonstrates that in the youth there is a lot of compassion and care for one another. [They] rallied together not because of some extrinsic reward but because they wanted to help. The students of Evans have demonstrated to the entire community that they are caring individuals, and they should be proud of what they have accomplished.”

 A+? We may need to come up with a whole new scale for this.  

For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Specialist, at 469-742-4007 or smauldin@mckinneyisd.net.