A single dollar doesn’t have the buying power in had 20 or 30 years ago. Can you still buy a pack of gum? Maybe. A candy bar? Not likely.

But what can 25 people do when they each take a dollar and pool their resources? Well, now we’re getting somewhere.

That was what was presented to our students in late December when the $1 Challenge returned to the Gilbert Community School District for the second straight year.

And what is the $1 Challenge? In 2022, a generous district family anonymously donated $1 to each of our students with the idea that the students pay it forward in some way to make a positive impact on others, and it was quite successful.

That’s approximately $1,600 donated. Please, give this family a round of applause.

This year, the challenge was, well, more challenging. With synergy and abundance mentality in mind, the students were asked to work together, to pool their money, and find a cause where their combined dollars could have an even greater impact.

The results, which we’ll get to shortly, speak for themselves.

“The challenge encompasses many of the traits we teach and work on each day with our kids,” Gilbert Intermediate Principal Amy Griffin said. “Think about others before yourself, give time, talent or money to a greater good and work together to be our best.”

Their best, as it turns out, put smiles on many faces.

Through service and teamwork, our students came up with a multitude of ways to make a difference in the area.

Six different classes donated their funds to the Salvation Army. Eight classes offered their funds to various animal shelters for items. Blank Children’s Hospital received donations from seven different classes with some taking the added step of purchasing specific items such as books, games, and even swaddles for infants in the NICU.

Toys for Tots, Food at First, the United Way, Maggie’s Drive, and the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital were a few of the other organizations that received donations from various classes.

Students working together to become leaders for causes greater than themselves. What’s better than that?

“We love how Gilbert is committed to helping students become leaders,” the anonymous donors to the $1 Challenge said. “When we started this (in 2022), we did it because we wanted to provide all kids an opportunity to make a difference for someone else. This year, we love how classes and groups have put their dollars together to make a bigger impact for so many!”

Chelsea Steil’s fourth-grade class at Gilbert Intermediate took it one step further. After selecting Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry to donate to, the students wanted to do more than a monetary donation. They wanted actual items delivered to the organization, and more than they could buy with their combined dollars. So they raided their own pantries at home to add to what Miss Steil was able to buy with their dollars.

“It made me very excited to see (the students) take ownership and come up with the ideas themselves,” Miss Steil said. “This challenge is amazing and it’s such a great opportunity for our kids.”

At Gilbert Middle School, the eighth-grade class used the $1 Challenge to enhance a fundraiser it was already working on. During a collaborative unit with Lauren Stephens and Laura Kautman, the students had already begun work to raise funds that would benefit the Ames Interfaith Refugee Alliance, and their combined dollars pushed the amount it was able to donate to $420. That money went to help 17 refugee children in the area from Ukraine, Venezuela, and Honduras.

“When the opportunity came with the $1 donation, we asked the kids and they overwhelmingly said they would use that money to support the cause we were already learning about,” Mrs. Stephens said. “Anytime you can give kids a position of advocacy, give them an opportunity to engage in their own community in something, that feels much more real. The closer you can root what they are looking at and grappling with in a worldwide lens into a local lens, the more lasting impact I think it has on them.”

Graham Lundt’s leadership and wellness class at the high school put its money together, and then the class members sought out other students to share their dollars in order to purchase Christmas gifts for four local children. The class eventually raised $200 in all.

“Their why was they wanted to give these kids gifts for Christmas,” Mr. Lundt said. “Then they went out as a group and bought gifts, came back and wrapped them, and then the next day they delivered them. The $1 Challenge is a really cool thing and it gives kids an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.”

Mr. Lundt says the idea actually came out of a failure from a different project, and that too is a valuable lesson his students can learn.

“At any leadership position, the only way you grow is by being unsuccessful,” Mr. Lundt explained. “This group saw a failed situation and found an opportunity, and sometimes the best ideas come from not being what they started as.”

We cannot thank our students and staff members enough for the time, effort, and enthusiasm they put into this project. And to our anonymous donors, your continued dedication to our students, our school, and our community is a shining light on what makes Gilbert CSD such a special place.