Making a difference

A Longfellow Elementary second-grader helped launch a drive that provided school supplies for a class of second-graders at a school in Nuevo Progreso, Mexco, this spring.

Cali Olson, 8, said she was “devastated” last year when she, her mother and grandparents visited Mexico and she spotted a school with dead grass, surrounded by iron bars and no playground.

Cali started school when her elementary, Longfellow, was still recovering from the Souris River flood of 2011. While she attended school in a temporary classroom on the site, she saw a beautiful school under construction next door and felt bad that kids her age in Mexico didn’t have the same amenities.

“She said, Mom, I think we should come back here and paint the school purple,” said her mother, Connie Olson, who works for Baker Hughes.

Connie Olson said she and her daughter go across the border to Mexico when they visit her parents, Shirley and Red Olson, who spend part of the year in Texas. Connie Olson didn’t take her daughter seriously when she first suggested helping the kids in Nuevo Progreso, but Cali still remembered the school when they went back to Texas the next year.

Connie Olson explained that some of Cali’s ideas of helping the school might not be practical. She said the people of the town might not want to have the school painted purple and water is so precious in some parts of the world that the town might not have any to spare to keep up a lawn. But the Olsons decided there might be other things that could help the school, like school supplies.

Connie Olson contacted the mayor’s office in Nuevo Progreso, who helped put her in touch with the school. There are 400 students in the school and Olson felt it might be too ambitious to help every kid in the school.

“We decided to help all the second-graders,” said Connie Olson. “There are 80 of them.”

The Olsons let people at church and work know about their school supply drive and donations came in. People at their church, United Congregational Church, put out a spare change jar for people to donate to the cause. Baker Hughes paid to transport some boxes to the town. The Baker Hughes office in Denver took up a collection of school supplies for the Olsons’ efforts. Longfellow second graders wrote letters to their counterparts in Nuevo Progreso. The Olsons got other donations and paid for some out of pocket.

They set up a date earlier this year to make the delivery and made the presentation at a school assembly, where Cali met the second-graders and was presented with a uniform shirt and some of the Mexican students showed off their jump roping skills. The girls gave Cali a big group hug and told her she was their new friend.

“We do feel like we’ve made some lifelong friends,” said Connie Olson, who said the effort will continue next year, with some groups moved to gather shoes for the children at the schools in Nuevo Progreso and to help gather other items for the schools.

Cali and her classmates received letters of thanks in Spanish last week from the second-graders in Nuevo Progreso. In the letters, which were translated into English by a Longfellow teacher from, the Mexican kids expressed thanks and talked about their own families.

Cali now knows that an 8-year-old can make a big difference in the world, said Connie Olson, who said she has always emphasized the importance of volunteering. Cali has been volunteering in the community since she was 4 and volunteers her time at a breakfast for the homeless in the community.