Woodland Fifth Graders Inspire Schoolwide ‘Sunshine’ Kindness Project

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Woodland Elementary School recently set out to make the world a little brighter by starting in its own backyard.

Teacher Patricia Kierbach and her fifth-grade students recently challenged students to create 100 “sun bags” for local seniors. With the help of the whole school, the group doubled their goal by creating 218 bags to distribute to seniors in community care facilities.

The bags were decorated and filled with items to ‘brighten up’ someone’s day. The bags included letters, cards, bookmarks and student-created artwork. The bags also included donations such as chocolate, adult coloring books, large print crossword puzzles, eyeglass cleaning cloths, lotion, blankets and stationery.


“Working on this project has brought me so much joy,” Kierbach said. “It was so exciting, they were having fun and really thinking about the mission, and the donations kept coming in. I think they realized it was something really special to do.

“In addition, our students have learned the importance of giving and remembering our elders. I am so happy to have met Gigi and thank her from the bottom of my heart for giving us this opportunity.”

The class was inspired by “Ms. Ruby and the Gigi Squad: Friendship Comes in All Ages,” a book written by Vickie Rodgers. Kierbach said she first received a copy of Rodgers’ book during the period. of Christmas.

Rodgers, also known as Gigi, said she wrote the children’s story after she was unable to find a book to use to introduce her four grandchildren to the idea of ​​visiting a nursing home.

“The mission of the book is to encourage children to befriend our generation of older adults, and this whole school service project is exactly what I hoped for,” Rodgers said. “The Sunshine Bag Kindness Project is at the end of the book and is the perfect service project for schools.”

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The “Gigi Squad” is made up of Rodgers and his four grandchildren, Avery, Caroline, Cole and Will.

“I was very touched and knew then that I wanted our class to help her in some way in her mission,” Kierbach said. “It was too close to the holiday season to start the project at that time, so I broached the idea with my students to see if they were interested in helping later.”

Around that time, in health class, Kierbach said his students learned ways to help communities. The students liked the idea, so Kierbach contacted Rodgers about the partnership, and she agreed to team up.

“I think they’ll be so happy when they get the Sunshine Bags. It’ll make their day,” fifth grader Will Beatty said. “I’m so proud of my Gigi, she has a big heart.”

The group collected donations in March and early April to fill bags ahead of spring break. The bags were distributed on Wednesday.

“I can’t tell you how humbling it is to see the book’s mission come to fruition,” Rodgers said. “For me, it’s like I wrote this book and it was eight months of my life. It was an incredible amount of effort and time.

“For Ms. Kierbach to take the plunge and actually fulfill the mission of the book, just to have her put it into a service project with the whole school, that was pretty humbling.”

Rodgers works part-time as a clinical educator at Meridian Village.

“So it’s good that they’re remembered,” Rodgers said. “Sometimes they’re a little forgotten, so I’m grateful.”

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Rodgers said the only thing that could improve the project was for the students to deliver the bags themselves. Due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions, representatives from Eden Village Retirement Home, Stillwater Senior Living, Brightly Senior Living, Addington Place and Meridian Village traveled to Woodland Elementary to pick up the bags on Wednesday.

Additionally, Rodgers was able to donate 50 bags to both University Care Center and Edwardsville Care Center.

“This is a wonderful project the kids have done for residents of any senior center,” said Sonya Preston of Eden Village. “Many settlement residents don’t have family who visit them regularly, so any time they’re lucky enough to have some sunshine, it brings a lot of joy to their day.”

“When she contacted them, I really thought it was a great idea,” said Alexis Young of Stillwater Senior Living. “Residents, they love kids, so getting them a Sunshine bag full of anything will make them happy.

“Especially with the way things have been. You know COVID really put a damper on things and we weren’t able to do as much as we wanted to.

Dawn Determan, community wellness director at Meridian Village, joined Rodgers in visiting Woodland Elementary to help distribute the Sunshine Bags.

“We were so excited and touched by the inspiration she put into this book and brings to work every day,” Determan said. “It’s so great to have this new generation coming in and loving our elders.”

Since the students more than doubled their goal, they were able to celebrate with a school-wide sunny day where students wore hats, sunglasses, and bright colors. Classrooms that donated the most Sunshine Bags also received extra recess and their own copy of Rodgers’ book.

“My students gave out prizes throughout the day to students wearing their Sunshine gear and displaying a sunny attitude,” Kierbach said. “It was supposed to rain all day today, but the sun came out just for us I think.”

For more information about Rodgers and her book and mission, visit https://www.vickierodgers.com/.

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