How do you teach young children the value and importance of doing something for others and getting involved in their community?

With lots of candy, of course.

Jackson County United Way Executive Director Tonja Couch recently was invited to Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour to share a lesson with fourth-graders about what makes a community a great place in which to live and how to make Seymour a community where people want and choose to live.

Handing out three different types of candy, Couch explained everyone in the community has time, as represented by Now and Later; talent, which was symbolized by Starburst; and treasure, which was either a 100 Grand or a PayDay.

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Couch didn’t have enough candy for all of the students, however, so a couple didn’t receive a single piece.

That’s when she explained if all of the students gave back their “time, talent and treasure,” then there would be enough for all of the students to have two pieces of candy and no one would be without.

The exercise showed students why giving back through volunteering and donating to those in need makes a community better and stronger.

Teacher Jennifer Regruth said she was impressed by the connections her students made.

“They understand that for a community to be successful, it takes all kinds of people, that we can all have different talents or beliefs, backgrounds, languages, whatever and be very helpful to our community,” she said. “Having those differences makes a community richer.”

Student Dezi Klakamp said she was happy to learn how she could make a difference.

“I want to help change our community and make the world a better place,” she said.

“I learned a lot about the world, and (Tonja Couch) taught me that you should give to people in need. If you share and show time, talent and treasure, people will share, too.”

After the exercise, the class had the opportunity to give their time by putting together Blessing Bags for the homeless.

Each large ziplock bag contained toiletries, snack items, socks and gloves donated by individuals in the community.

The students were asked to take the bags home and talk about it with their parents.

The idea is for the children, with adult permission, to give the bags to a homeless person they may see or someone else they know of in need.

Couch said students also could give the bags to police officers, who would then give them to the homeless, or bring them back to school and they would be given to Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Food Pantry in Seymour.

Student Yuleimy Ruiz Rosa said she loved the idea of being able to help someone by giving them a Blessing Bag.

“Making our Blessing Bags was a total inspiration to help others and to be nice and give my time, talent and treasure to everyone,” she said. “I wanted to give back to others and make someone’s day. Everyone should try it.”

Classmate Elmer Rivera said he realized while making the Blessing Bags what an impact he could have.

“Making the Blessings Bag made my heart melt,” he said. “I know sometimes I don’t care, but when I started to feel that bad with feelings, it made me think maybe I should give more to the community.”

Regruth said she believes the Blessing Bag project can spark increased compassion and concern about those who are homeless or in poverty. She also believes Couch’s lesson is a catalyst to jump-starting the next generation to care more about getting involved.

Student Eloiza Baltazar didn’t wait long to put the Blessing Bag to work. She gave her bag to someone over the weekend.

“The homeless person said, ‘You are a good person to give that to me.’ So I said, ‘You’re welcome,’” Baltazar said.

It made Baltazar feel so good to help someone out that he and his mother decided to do more.

“My mom and I decided to make more bags for the homeless. We went to Indianapolis, and I went in and got things for more Blessings Bags,” he said.

Student Diana Zarate said the Blessing Bags made her care more about how many people are homeless in the community.

“I like helping because some people in this world need the things that we put in the Blessing Bags,” she said. “That’s why I am trying to find people who need it. This makes me want to help people all over the world.”

Couch said it just takes a simple conversation to spark action.

“If we can get kids interested and involved in the community at this age, they will change the future,” she said.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.