Indianapolis students raise thousands for Harvey relief fundraiser

Photo of elementary school student holding a cowboy hat as part of a fundraiser for Harvey victims. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Elementary school students in Indianapolis “adopted” classrooms at a partner school in Texas as part of an ongoing, friendship-focused fundraising effort to support Houston-area children and families impacted by Harvey, local principals said.

Acton and Bunker Hill – both elementary schools in the Franklin Township Community School Corporation – found a sister school in Conroe ISD’s Houser Elementary, north of Houston. At least 50 students enrolled there “lost everything” to flooding, administrators revealed.

The Indianapolis students will participate in fundraising events, as well as bond-building activities including writing letters to their Houser peers, sending them sweet treats, connecting with them online, learning about their community and initiating friendships that teachers are hopeful will continue for years to come.

“Some of these connections between third graders could actually become lifelong friendships,” said Dr. Kent Pettet, principal of Bunker Hill Elementary School. “We want to help our kids better understand what’s happening in Texas by connecting them with children affected by it. We aren’t just saying we’re going to send money to that area. [We’re saying,] ‘Here are the faces of the kids we’re trying to [help].'”

Adding a personal angle to their fundraising efforts – instead of simply collecting donations for nameless, faceless strangers known only as “Harvey victims” – will also teach students to embrace empathy and compassion, Acton principal Brook Wessel-Burke explained.

“These lessons are just as important as academics,” she said. “These are kids their age… They’re realizing, ‘Those are kids just like us!’ They have homes that they’ve lost and that could be us.”

The schools are focusing on explaining the destruction wrought by the deadly hurricane to students in an age-appropriate manner. Pettet and Wessel-Burke emphasized the value of creating opportunities for lighthearted fun during their Harvey fundraising efforts.

“Tragedies like this can be scary for kids,” Wessel-Burke told 24-Hour News 8. “How can we make it not scary? How can we use this as a learning opportunity so that they can learn how to help each other but not be scared by the floods?”

Their answer? Cowboy boots and big hair.

Acton and Bunker Hill kicked off their week of fundraising events with “Dress Like A Texan Day” in a show of solidarity with their Texas peers. Students dressed in their finest western wear excitedly compared hats and posed in their boots Tuesday during lunch.

“We have dress-up days so we can dress up too!” Wessel-Burke said with a laugh, showing off her turquoise cowboy boots. “We have just as much fun as the kids.”

Pettet – sporting a sheriff’s hat and fake mustache – said he visited a local Halloween store and enjoyed browsing their full line-up of cowboy costumes while putting his outfit together.

“There can be good that comes out of tragedy,” he said. “The kids are getting to have fun, learn about other communities and make new friends.”

The schools quickly surpassed their initial fundraising goal of $1,000 – raising nearly $4,000 by Thursday – and continue accepting monetary donations at the front offices of Acton and Bunker Hill. A fundraiser dinner is scheduled for Thursday evening at Texas Roadhouse on Southport Road.

Sweetest of all, they arranged to surprise Houser staff and students with a delivery of Texas- and Indiana-shaped cookies made by a family-owned, Houston area bakery also impacted by Harvey.

“We love you, Texas!” said Acton first grader Anna Jaggers, placing her cowgirl hat over her heart.