Thank You to Donors for the New Dictionary Project

The fronts of the Thank You cards the kids made this week to thank donors for the dictionaries.
Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card Thank You Card

The New Dictionary fundraising project closes with some thank you notes from the dictionary recipients.

I asked my friend, the teacher at the school that received the dictionaries we raised money for to write something up to share with donors. She sent me the following:

Gratitude Attitude

Corny title, huh. That’s okay I’m feeling a bit sentimental towards the people that chose to become involved in my students’ education. Saying thank you because you made a difference sounds trite, but let me explain.

So often we are frustrated by the state of education and don’t know how to help. Funding alone will not make the difference, but getting involved does. When I felt defeated using dictionaries not adequate for my class and expressed this to my friend Maria Langer she chose to become involved. She set up the Indiegogo account and monitored its progress. Thanks, Maria!

Incredibly, people I’ve never met cared enough to donate to a fund to purchase 32 new dictionaries for over half of our school’s 6th grade class. Wow! Not only did you make this possible, but you have inspired me as a teacher with your involvement. Thank you for trusting me with your donation and your support.

Our first day back from winter break brought excitement as we unpacked our dictionary shipment. We explored our new books and students discovered word origins, geographical names and locations as well as all the usual components of a dictionary.
We practiced learning new words by me, the teacher, asking questions such as, “What would you do with a plover?” and offering the following multiple choice responses: “Till the dirt on your farm?”, “Observe it in the sky?”, or “Drive it? ” Then students would hurriedly flip through the pages to be the first to define it. New text to discover!

Excitement in learning made possible because of your contributions. Thank you for caring enough to share and changing my attitude of some resignation into one of gratitude and renewed energy.

My friend’s class also created Thank You cards, which will be shipped out today to one of two donors who contributed $100 to the project. (The other donor elected not to get a bonus.) I’ve scanned the fronts of the cards to show them off here. The insides are full of personal notes and student signatures. Kid art rocks!

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this project. It really made a difference to this sixth grade class.

Update on the New Dictionary Project

Disappointing results, but not for the kids.

Back in November 2011, I blogged about my friend’s sixth grade class, which was using dictionaries so old that they didn’t include the word “Internet.” I was appalled by this situation and launched a fund-raising project on Indiegogo to buy enough dictionaries and thesauruses for both sixth grade classes in this severely underfunded rural school.

The goal was to raise $1,500, which would cover the cost of 100 books (50 each of the dictionary and thesaurus) and the fees Indiegogo charges to help raise the money.

Unfortunately, we only got $431 from 13 contributors, two of whom were extremely generous. After paying Indigogo’s fees, that left us with $379.28 for the books.

DictionaryRight before New Year’s Day, I ordered 32 copies of the Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary from Amazon.com and had them shipped directly to my teacher friend at her school. (Because I’m an Amazon Prime member, shipping was free.) This was in addition to the copy of the Dictionary and Thesaurus I had bought back in early November to make sure they met with my friend’s approval for her class.

On January 7, when the kids got back to school, they were thrilled to have the new books. My friend told me briefly about the few games she played with the kids using the books. (I’m hoping she’ll have something in her own words to add here.)

My friend kept 25 books for her class and gave the remaining books to the other sixth grade teacher for her class.

Although I’d love to reopen the fundraising campaign to get the rest of the funds for the remaining books, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. Times are tough. Most people believe that a school district should get funds from local sources. I agree — to a certain extent. But this district is so poor that funds just won’t come. What we’ve managed to give them is a lot more than they ever expected. I think I need to be satisfied knowing that.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of the contributors for their generosity. I still believe that we made a difference in the lives of at least a few of these kids — and the kids going through the sixth grade in this school in the years to come.

Thanks!

“Internet” is Not in this Class’s Dictionary

Help me fix this problem.

Note: I’ve been purposely vague about my friend’s identity and details about her school. In all honesty, she’s a tiny bit concerned about her job and would prefer to remain anonymous.

A good friend of mine is a teacher in a local elementary school. The school has several hundred students and is located in a low-income, rural area just outside Phoenix. My friend has a class of about 23 students and is constantly struggling to keep their interest and teach them with the tools she is provided by the school district. More than a few times, she’s dipped into her own pockets to buy things her students need that aren’t provided by the school.

My friend doesn’t make much money. Although she loves to teach, she finds her job frustrating. She wants to help the kids learn, she wants to help them break the cycle of poverty and make better lives for themselves. But there isn’t enough money in the school district to buy the tools the kids need to learn. She’s considered leaving her job, but doesn’t want to let the kids down — their class has already lost two teachers mid-term in previous years. She thinks it’s important for them to have continuity throughout the year.

Meanwhile, the school district superintendent, who only has two schools to manage, is reportedly pulling in a six-digit salary and gets a $750 per month clothing/car allowance. His bonus last year was more than my friend earns as a salary.

Internet Not in the Dictionary?

Internet is not in this dictionaryThe other day, she and I were talking about how kids have access to things we didn’t have at their age. Referring to her class, she said, “When I tell my kids that we didn’t have the Internet when I was a kid, they don’t believe me. So I had them look it up in the dictionary. Our dictionaries are so old, they don’t include the word ‘Internet.'”

I was floored. Her class was using dictionaries that were that old? The word Internet came into general usage in the 1990s — her dictionaries was older than that?

Old DictionaryWe talked more about it and I discovered that not only were the dictionaries old, but there was a mix of them and not enough for all the kids. And although she was required to teach the kids about synonyms, they didn’t have any thesauruses.

I whipped out my iPad to see what an appropriate dictionary would cost. A decent paperback was available for only $5.99. It would cost less than $150 to buy 25 of them for her class. Or about $300 to buy enough for both classes in that grade. A fraction of the school superintendent’s monthly clothing/car allowance. Yet the superintendent got his check every month while the kids went without decent reference materials.

Can you imagine how much that annoyed me — a writer?

What Can I — or We — Do to Help?

It also got me thinking…what could I do to help?

Yes, I’m willing to spend $150 to buy 25 dictionaries for my friend’s class. But I could do better. With the help of my blog readers and social networking friends, maybe I could raise enough money to get all the kids in that grade a better, more durable hardcover dictionary and a thesaurus.

DictionaryI did more research on Amazon.com and found Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Thesaurus. The books were recently published, so they were up-to-date. They were designed for the right grade level. I could get both books for $24.77 with free shipping from Amazon prime. 50 copies would cost about $1,238.50.

I thought about The Oatmeal raising a ton of money for the Tesla Museum. I know that $1,238.50 is a lot less than the $1.37 million the Oatmeal raised. Yes, I have a lot less influence. But even if I got 100 people to donate $13 each, I’d have enough. And if I came up a little short, I could make up the difference.

No, I’m Not Nuts

At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m nuts. After all, what do I care about these kids? I’ve never met them and I’m never likely to meet them. And will having a decent dictionary really make a difference in their lives?

I’ll admit that for the vast majority of the kids, it probably won’t make a difference at all. But imagine it making a difference in just one kid’s life. Maybe he or she develops an interest in reading or writing or just using words to communicate better. Maybe browsing through the pictures in the book leads him or her to a word that sparks an interest in science or geology or history. Maybe just having a good reference book to learn from might help him or her score better on an exam down the road. Any of these things could change his or her future. It could break the cycle and open doors to a better life. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?

And these books would be around for years. Imagine making a difference on one kid’s life every year for the next 20 years. Isn’t that enough to make it worth helping?

I know it would make my friend’s job easier and a tiny bit less frustrating.

And yes, it’s a damned shame that tax dollars are funneled to superintendent compensation before educational materials for students — or even teacher pay. But I’ve tried fighting in the political arena before and got nowhere. I’d rather spend a few dollars to solve the problem from the outside than years of my life trying to fix it from the inside.

Will You Help?

With all this in mind, I set up a campaign on Indiegogo to raise $1,500 to cover the cost of the books, the rewards for big donors, and the campaign fees. I’m hoping you’ll click over there now and donate a few dollars to help me reach this goal.

If we come up short, I’ll try to make up the difference.

If we go over, I’d like to buy the younger kids copies of the Merriam-Webster Elementary Dictionary, which is designed for grades 3-5. I’d get as many copies as I could — hopefully enough to outfit at least one classroom. Those books are $11.66 each with free shipping.

And maybe you can also spread the word about this campaign? Tweet or share this blog post or the link to the campaign.

Thanks.

Burning the Bridge Back to Fat-Town

Why keep oversized clothes I never want to get back into again?

I did laundry today for the first time in two weeks. I’d just about run out of clothes. Clothes that fit me, that is.

I’m down 37 pounds from where I was about three months ago. Back then, my jeans were uncomfortably tight and I preferred loose-fitting “chef pants” and cargo shorts. As the weight fell off, my clothes started fitting better. And then they started getting loose. It all came to a head about two weeks ago when I realized that I didn’t have any nice jeans that fit. As discussed in the postscript to this post from August 29, I went shopping and discovered that I wasn’t one size smaller — I was two sizes smaller.

I’m actually now wearing the same size Levi’s I wore when I was in high school.

Too Big NowSo today, after doing laundry and having my entire Mobile Mansion wardrobe clean and folded, I decided to start weeding out the clothes that were simply too big to look right on me. Actually, I started weeding in the laundromat, pulling all the XL sized tank tops and gym shorts. Tonight I tried on every pair of pants and shorts. And what I discovered is that every pair of pants and shorts I left Arizona with in May are now too big.

As I gained weight throughout my 40s, I packed away the jeans that became too tight to wear. I had a crazy idea that someday I’d lose weight and be able to wear them again. I can picture them now, in bags on the floor of my closet at home. In October, when I get home, I’ll tear those bags open and go through them. I bet I’ll find plenty in there to fit.

But what of the pants that are now too big? Do I save them, too? Just in case I get fat again?

I don’t think so. I think I’d rather burn the bridge back to Fat-Town. I’ll drop them all off at Goodwill tomorrow.

A Donation Request from the Boy Scouts of America

And how I handled it.

Apparently, Arizona Highways magazine has once again featured my helicopter charter company, Flying M Air, in its magazine. This time, I’m on a list of “31 Things To Do Before You Die.” Although I should be thrilled about this, I’m not. I’m only in Arizona half the year and, in all honesty, have begun thinking of moving my business to Washington permanently.

But I digress.

With publicity like that comes the usual collection of beggars. People looking for money or service donations or “partnerships” with what they believe are ultra-successful businesses come out of the woodwork, visit my site, and start contacting me by phone and email. The ballsiest of these (so far) has been The Boy Scouts of America. Here’s the email their fundraising person sent me yesterday:

Today I am writing concerning the Grand Canyon Council, Boy Scouts of America’s First Annual East Valley Golf Tournament, which will be held on Saturday September 15, 2012 at the Alta Mesa Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. This will be the first of what we hope will many annual golf out to celebrate the Character Development programs of Scouting here in our community.

Scouting serves nearly 50,000 young people annual in our community with the mission of preparing our youth members to make ethical and moral over their lifetime by instilling in them the Scout Oath and Law. You will find enclosed additional information about some of our successes for your review.

The Alta Mea Golf Club’s 7,093 yard Dick Phelps designed Championship course will provide a wonderful setting for our first annual event. The East Valley Golf Tournament will include lunch, great raffle items, a silent auction, and a player participation package that will be worth in excess of $150.

The event’s auction and lunch will create a great deal of excitement that will top off a perfect day of golf and fellowship. Most auction items are unique, high quality items and/or packages that auction winner’s treasure. I’d like to ask you to consider donating a Multi Day Excursion. Your donation will help Scouting make a positive difference in the lives of over 50,000 children in our community. All donors are recognized in the event program.

If you would like to contribute to this worthy cause, please contact us. Should you have any questions, please contact me at 602-###-#### or XXXXXXX@bsamail.org. Thank you for your consideration of our request. Your generous support will be deeply appreciated!

There was no enclosure. She obviously copied and pasted a boilerplate letter into the message content field on the form on Flying M Air’s website.

Apparently, her editing was limited to requesting a specific service we offer: a Multi-Day Excursion. What you might not know, however, is that our Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventure costs $6,995 for two people. So she was asking for us to donate nearly $7K worth of services for … wait for it … recognition in the event program and their deep appreciation.

Wow.

I did say ballsy, didn’t I?

Of course, The Boy Scouts of America have been in the news quite a bit lately. The New York Times‘ July 17, 2012 article titled “Boy Scouts to Continue Excluding Gay People” — published just two days before I received the email above — begins with the summary:

The Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed its longtime policy of barring openly gay boys from membership and gay or lesbian adults from serving as leaders. The decision, announced on Tuesday, came after what the organization described as a wide-ranging internal review, and despite public protests.

The article goes on to provide details. If you’re not aware of BSA’s stance on gays, you really ought to read it or one of the dozens of other articles exposing the BSA as the homophobic, backward-thinking organization that it is. Just Google “boy scouts gay” and you’ll get enough links to last through a week of reading.

I guess the BSA’s fundraising people think that their stance on gays is something we should all be glad about — something we all want to support by donating to their charity events. Why else would I get an email message asking for a donation so soon after the BSA made their announcement?

Well, I’m not glad. I don’t think any group should be discriminated against for any reason. The BSA is excluding scouts and leaders based on their sexual orientation. That’s just plain wrong.

I didn’t waste much time crafting a response to the request. I kept it short and simple:

I’m sorry, but the BSA’s anti-gay stance makes it impossible for us to support them. I’m sure you understand.

And I don’t think anything has given me as much pleasure lately as clicking that Send button.