Red Pencil Project scores high marks

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Echelon Hawaii’s school support project builds relationship with students.

By Karen Gleason –

Echelon Hawaii kicked off the 2018–2019 school season by reaching out to three schools in the Honolulu area—LikeLike Elementary, Kauluwela Elementary, and Waialua Elementary— to ensure their third graders had what they need to start the year off right by distributing 300 backpacks to the students. This is the third year Echelon, a group of young professionals who support the mission of The Salvation Army, has partnered with local schools in what is now called the “Red Pencil Project.”

“We concentrated just on the third grade classes this year to be a little more focused and intentional with our relationship building,” said Jennifer Oyer, Echelon member and Chief Development Officer for The Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division.

Echelon Board Members with students from Likelike Elementary School. These third graders just received backpacks filled with school supplies.

Oyer said that Echelon’s service to the schools will continue throughout the school year.

“We have built strong relationships with the teachers at all the schools,” Oyer said. “The funds and items we collect at our Echelon events will continue to go to these schools to purchase uniforms and shoes, and additional items that the teachers need throughout the school year such as computer paper, thumb drives for the students and art supplies.”

Echelon Vice Chair, Clifton Yasutomi, shares his thoughts on “compassion” to a student at LikeLike Elementary School.

The Red Pencil Project began as a simple, one-time back-to-school supply drive in 2016. Setting out to meet a need in the Honolulu community, Echelon partnered with four schools situated near Salvation Army locations.

“We reached out to the schools to make them aware of our intent to donate back-to-school essentials and worked with their staff, identifying grade-level appropriate supplies plus other items on their wish list, such as school t-shirts or lab fees,” said Echelon member Billie Lueder.

That year, the Red Pencil Project culminated with a back-to-school backpack presentation and pizza party at the four schools.

Captain Tammy, of Kauluwela Corps, hugs a third-grade student from Likelike Elementary School who has just received a backpack filled with school supplies.

For the  2017–2018 school year, Echelon members realized they wanted more from the project than the backpack donations.

“We wanted to create a relationship with the students and the school to deepen our impact,” Lueder said. To accomplish this, they focused on Likelike Elementary, located in the same district as the Kauluwela Corps. Captains Tammy and Tony Poe, Kauluwela Corps Officers, participated with Echelon on the project.

Working with the principal, counselor and third-grade teachers, Echelon came up with a four touchpoint program whereby Echelon would visit with the students every quarter with a new activity focusing on a character trait: generosity, kindness, compassion and service.

Echelon Board Members, Salvation Army Officers, and teachers from Likelike Elementary School pose with the third-grade students who had received backpacks filled with school supplies.

“This [first-quarter] experience was a teachable moment for our students on the importance of giving back,” said Kelly Bart, Principal of Likelike Elementary. “I can already see how this gesture has made a huge impact on our students. The students were ready and excited to start the school year—many with the supplies they would not have otherwise had at their disposal.”

The second quarter activity featured a story time. After Echelon members read aloud a book on kindness, students wrote acts of kindness on strips of paper and linked them together, forming a chain to hang in their classroom, to which they could add links as more kind acts occurred.

“They taught us how to be kind to others…helping others and giving back is the right thing to do,” said student Asher Bolen.

For the third quarter, Echelon expanded the idea of kindness by encouraging the students to think about people in need within their community. The group worked with the students to prepare “compassion kits” containing essential toiletry items. Each student wrote a note of encouragement to the recipient. Echelon partnered with The Salvation Army Revolution Hawaii team, which distributed the kits during outreach walks.

Likelike Elementary School student writes a letter to someone in need to go into the Compassion Kit he created. The Compassion Kit consists of personal hygiene items to be passed out by our Family Services Office.

Echelon planned a campus beautification day for the fourth quarter. Led by the third grade class, students improved their own campus, working together as a community of learners and putting into practice the concept of service above self.

Each quarter’s character trait built upon the one previously explored.

“[Echelon] showed us kindness by giving us school supplies,” said student Nejemalyn Rikat. “They teach us how to be kind and that makes us kind to others or people that live on the street. We can also teach others to be kind so that they can be kind to others, too.”

As a visual reminder of their year-long journey with the students, Echelon created posters of the four character traits that they presented to the school for display in the classroom.

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