Students Doing Good in the Community

Students Doing Good in the Community

Devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Empty shelves at the local food bank. Abandoned pets in need of a home. A heart health risk for teens. Classmates in need of a friend or mentor. Gwinnett students put their caring into action every day— at school, in the community, and around the globe.

Character education— those common beliefs taught at home and reinforced at school and in the community— is thoroughly embedded in a GCPS education. Traits like kindness, compassion, generosity, respect, and tolerance translate into hundreds of projects, thousands of service hours, and many hundreds of thousands in donated goods and dollars.

Visit any Gwinnett school and you’ll find student-made posters in the halls for an upcoming fundraiser or benefit concert, an appeal for canned goods or warm coats, or reminders of the next service club event. Throughout the county, student-driven organizations at every school level reflect the generous spirit and servant leadership of Gwinnett students.

Read on for some examples of how our students are making a difference for others.

Challenge spurs food drive
This winter, students at Pharr Elementary took the initiative to combat hunger when they heard about the dire need for food items at the Southeast Food Cooperative.

Pharr Elementary students help load
their donated canned goods.
“Pharr Elementary has had an ongoing relationship with the food cooperative,” says Jerry Raymond, principal of Pharr Elementary. “Students, parents, and staff annually contribute food items during the Thanksgiving and Spring Food Drives, and funds are raised each year at the Empty Bowls Dinner sponsored by our Student Council.”

Pharr’s kindergarten and 1st grade students came to the rescue when they learned the co-op’s shelves were nearly empty. They issued a challenge to the entire school— each class should collect 100 food items by the 100th day of school on Jan. 25, with a goal to collect 3,500 food items.

“At first, the cooperative sent someone to pick up the donations every day,” Mr. Raymond says. “Their shelves were completely bare and the need in the community was just that great. Everything that came in was immediately given out to families.”

The spirit of giving proved to be contagious. The challenge was extended to other schools, including Starling Elementary, which collected 2,800 food items for the cooperative. Ultimately, Pharr students generously donated more than 8,000 canned goods, and received a proclamation from the Mayor and City Council of Snellville “for their insight to help the needy and for their determination to reach out to the community.”

Find a nearby food bank or co-op through United Way's 2-1-1 service or the Feed America food bank locator.

Level Creek students launch Project Save the Animals
The opportunity to build leadership skills among Allan Gehrisch’s 5th graders and Lisa Vogel’s 1st graders was as irresistible as a shelter full of animals in need of loving families. Banding together as Team G-Force and Team Leopard, the Level Creek Elementary students launched Project Save the Animals. The children gathered supplies, attracted volunteers, and collected donations for the Georgia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which runs a no-kill animal shelter in Suwanee. The students also organized a pet adoption day in late February.

“My class was so excited to be working with the 5th graders,” says Ms. Vogel. “We’re trying to teach them to be leaders and set goals. They see that they can do things to help the community and they loved to see items in the donation boxes they’d made.”

Ms. Vogel’s 1st graders created donation boxes, passed out flyers, and kept track of the many donations received for the shelter. In addition to creating and placing donation boxes around the school, the 5th grade students created a web site; and wrote, produced, and filmed their own commercial about the pet adoption day event.

All of the students took full ownership of the event and coordinated every task. “This isn’t about us as teachers or even the school,” says Mr. Gehrisch. “It’s about [the students] seeing that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to, and when we take care of each other as a family we do better in school.”

The pet adoption day event helped
many dogs and cats find new homes.

Mr. Gehrisch's class officers check out donations
received near Level Creek Elementary's entrance.
Efforts to benefit the SPCA did a lot of good for the shelter and the animals. The Pet Adoption Day event raised $719 and many dogs and cats found their way to new homes. Altogether, students and their families donated eight large boxes of animal toys and blankets to the shelter.

Ms. Vogel and Mr. Gehrisch have seen the project’s impact on their students as well. When meeting as a group, the older students buddy-up with younger students, and everyone is quick to lend a helping hand. Mr. Gehrisch says, “Kids who wouldn’t normally speak up are saying ‘I’ll do it’ and they’re taking the initiative to help.”

Norcross High ‘connects’ to offer help to Haiti

Supporting aid efforts for Haiti was a matter of “linking together” at Norcross High, where student volunteers sold blue and white construction paper spirit links to raise donations.

Teacher Brooke Wright says the students sold the links for $1 each during their 1st period classes. Student volunteers from the Student Council Executive Board and DECA marketing club collected the donations from the classes, and other students helped tally the funds and staple the links together.

After just one week of fundraising, the students had more than 5,000 links chained together. The chain was presented at a home basketball game, then placed on display in the school’s atrium. Including on-the-spot donations raised from basketball fans, the project raised $6,286 for the Red Cross.

Norcross High students present the links
at a recent home basketball game.

“I never had to ask for volunteers,” Ms. Wright says. Students knew about the project, wanted to help, and asked their peers to join them. “The success of this project is a testimony about the spirit of community here at Norcross High School. It truly was a team effort between students and teachers, and our students' enthusiasm toward the effort was inspiring to all of us.”

Art with heART aids Haiti
Inspired by “Houses for Haiti,” a nationwide art fundraiser for Haiti relief efforts, North Gwinnett High art students created a variety of Haiti House pins, magnets, and necklaces made from recycled cardboard. The Haiti Houses were sold for $10 each to benefit Doctors Without Borders and International Habitat for Humanity. Setting an initial goal of $1,000, the students quickly raised more than $2,000 within a week. They decided to set the bar higher and realized an exciting outcome.

Most of the Haiti houses created by the students could fit easily in the palm of one's hand.
“The Haiti House project really expanded into a full-blown community event, where we hosted a community art exhibit auction— Haiti House heART Work— at Peace, Love and Pottery in Suwanee,” says Visual Arts Teacher Debi West.

Larger, mounted Haiti Houses were sold at the exhibit, along with the original selection of pins, magnets, and necklaces. DVDs with a PowerPoint slide show of the students’ heART work set to music also were available for purchase. The students raised more than $3,000.

Ms. West says the project reinforced her lessons in creating “art with a purpose.” “What is the meaning of making art?” she asks. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, she answers her own question, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


Schools around the county participated in similar art fundraisers to support earthquake aid agencies and organizations like the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. The Houses for Haiti were “constructed” from different materials— from recycled cardboard to “shrinkable” plastic— but all were made with love and with an understanding that community outreach does a great deal of local and global good.

Staff and students giving back to the community

United Way
Times are tough, yet GCPS staff members came through for neighbors in need one more time last fall, pledging more than $435,000 to Gwinnett’s United Way campaign. Students contributed another $54,000-plus to the campaign, for a GCPS total of $490,874 for the school system.

United Way’s 2-1-1… Metro Atlanta residents can dial 2-1-1 to find help 24 hours a day from anywhere in the 404, 678, and 770 area codes. Free, confidential information is available on counseling, child care, emergency shelter, food, mortgage assistance, help with utilities, and more. Outside metro Atlanta, call 404-614-1000. Callers also may dial 2-1-1 to offer help to others in the community— to volunteer, to donate goods or services, or to offer an internship. (2-1-1 services also are available online.)

That’s how we LIVE UNITED, neighbors helping neighbors… able to get help when you need it, and able to give help when you can.

“Every year, I’m amazed and humbled by the giving spirit displayed by our staff and students during the United Way campaign,” says Kelly Herndon, who co-chaired the 2010 GCPS United Way campaign with Dr. Jean Walker. “Our schools are the heart of this community, and it is never more apparent than when we ask for their support for those in need and the students and staff of this school system respond so generously.”

Ten clusters raised at least $20,000— the Berkmar Cluster leading the way with $41,607.64. Other top clusters included Mill Creek, Norcross, North Gwinnett, Collins Hill, Meadowcreek, Brookwood, Parkview, Central Gwinnett, and Duluth.

Minor ES Principal Christina Wimmer says her staff and students more than doubled their original goal, resulting in GCPS’ most successful United Way school campaign… raising $14,564. “We are especially proud that while our student campaign only ran for one week, students raised $2,916 by bringing pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters during our ‘Changing Lives of Others’ Week,” she says. “In a time of such great need, we take great pride in the fact that Minor’s stakeholders were so willing to support others through their giving.” Ms. Wimmer credits Minor’s campaign chair Heather Alvira for the school’s United Way success.

GCPS’ United Way Campaign by the numbers…
GCPS Campaign Total$436,806 in employee campaign and $54,068 in student campaign for a total of $490,874
Top Three School
Minor ES, $14,564; Lilburn ES, $11,815; Creekland MS, $9,052
Top Campaigns by Level: Minor ES, $14,564; Creekland MS, $9,052; Norcross HS, $8,878
Office Campaigns
Employees at the Instructional Support Center (ISC) and other Central Office locations pledged $45,067.20.

Relay For Life (American Cancer Society)
GCPS also takes pride in its annual involvement in Gwinnett County's Relay For Life event. This longtime commitment benefits both the American Cancer Society and those students and staff members involved in the cause.

Norcross High raised $57,461.93 in last year's
Relay For Life activities.
“The role of the school system is to be a part of our community,” says Randy Redner, Executive Area Director of the American Cancer Society. “The school system is educating the next doctor, nurse, researcher, philanthropist, and volunteer. Through Relay For Life, we are teaching our kids to do good in the community, to be community leaders, and to roll up their sleeves for a cause and do something about it.”

Our students and staff did just that. In 2009, GCPS teams raised $1,068,953.91 for the American Cancer Society, almost half of the total raised by the Gwinnett Relay for Life event— $2.1 million. Gwinnett's Relay is the largest in the world. To learn more about this year’s event, contact the American Cancer Society at 770-814-0123 or visit

Among the 108 school system teams participating in the Relay in May 2009, a total of 37 school teams and two central office teams each raised $10,000 or more.
High Schools
Middle Schools
Elementary Schools

Brookwood HS
Central Gwinnett HS
Dacula HS
Grayson HS
Maxwell HS of Technology
Mill Creek HS
Norcross HS
North Gwinnett HS
Parkview HS
Peachtree Ridge HS
Hull MS
Jones MS
Lanier MS
McConnell MS
Shiloh MS
Trickum MS
Alford ES
Chattahoochee ES
Cooper ES
Craig ES
Creekland MS
Crews MS
Duncan Creek ES
Grayson ES
Harbins ES
Head ES
Jackson ES
Mason ES
Pharr ES
Puckett's Mill ES
Riverside ES
Rock Springs ES
Simpson ES
Sugar Hill ES
Sycamore ES
Taylor ES
Winn Holt ES

Central Office teams: Information Management Division CDs and the Transportation Department team.

Six teams raised more than $30,000:

  • Norcross HS ($57,461.93)
  • McConnell MS ($47,226.25)
  • North Gwinnett HS ($36,936.92)
  • GCPS Transportation ($35,511.29)
  • Lanier Middle ($34,089.12)
  • Mill Creek High ($33,696.31)

Of course, this is just a handful of the many ways our students and staff members are involved in the community. Watch school newsletters for more about how your school community cares for those in need.