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Family dollar

A little entrepreneurial activity can help Christian schools meet their budgets and students learn

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

REMEMBER HOW IN THE MOVIE IT'S A WONDERFUL Life a Depression bank run ends George Bailey's honeymoon plans? Using $2,000 he had saved, Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) satisfies the financial needs of savers at the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan Association. Ending the day with only two one-dollar bills left, he jocularly offers "A toast! A toast to Papa Dollar and to Mama Dollar, and if you want the old Building and Loan to stay in business, you better have a family real quick."

Lots of small Christian schools end up the school year that way, and some are in an even more tenuous condition. That's why fundraising campaigns are common, even though many folks hate them-or so the response to our Worldmagblog "question of the day" earlier this month suggests. (One response: "Favorite fundraiser? Isn't that an oxymoron?") Many readers are tired of programs (wrapping paper, chocolate?) that minimize students' use of their imaginations and make contributors shell out for the same old same old.

So let's go back to basics. Children can learn a lot about public speaking and persistence from selling items, but we should also try to encourage their entrepreneurial thinking. If students (perhaps with some parental prompting) have to come up with fundraising ideas themselves, figure out pricing, and then determine the net profit of their enterprises, they're using their imaginations and then learning to shoot neither too high nor too low.

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That's not a theoretical statement. The 75-student, economically and ethnically mixed Christian school I'm involved with, City School of Austin, was getting down to its Mama Dollar and Papa Dollar last month. Desperately, we set up a "Principal's Challenge" in which each student received $5 that he was supposed to multiply through entrepreneurial initiative.

The response was encouraging, and enriching, as an enormous variety of enterprises emerged. For example: One child, Andrew Powell, went door to door in his neighborhood taking orders for hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts to be delivered at homes on Saturday morning at a price of $7 per dozen. Using discount cards he was able to purchase doughnuts in bulk for $3.25 per dozen, and realized a $206 profit on sales of 55 dozen.

Another child, Maggie Ligon, sold lawn-care services, on one day earning $50 for helping to create flower beds and realizing in the process how we bring forth post-Eden gardens only through the sweat of our brows: "First we removed all rocks and grass from the area and put the rocks in a pile. Then we got shovels and shoved out a huge mound of dirt and drove it over to the spot with the tractor. It seemed pretty easy at first, but when the day got hot the work got harder."

Erika Dobbs, a pre-K student, dictated this to her mom: "I'm selling playdoh [homemade] for the school, rice krispie snacks and fudge, brownies and chocolate chip cookies. I selled it to the neighbors. Mommy and Dylan and me helped bake 'em. I put everything in the wagon and I like doing it. I raised two hundred and five money." Her mother adds that Erika was excited going door to door giving a sales pitch to neighbors and kept at it, earning $205 and probably losing the fear of selling that later restricts job options for many young adults.

An older student gained experience for a future fundraising career by going from business to business asking for objects for a silent auction; he was successful one-third of the time. Another student had a lawn-mowing business, a third ran an enchilada party. Delightfully, for a school not located in an affluent part of town (we've given 47 percent of our students scholarships this year), the children's businesses netted $5,500, which was matched by a local entrepreneur-yielding $11,000 this year, and our teachers will be paid.

Of course, it's time to start on next year, so at our closing exercises this weekend we're giving parents and guests the opportunity to buy a year's subscription of WORLD for $49.95 and have $20 of that amount go to the school. We're now making that deal available for everyone around the country; call WORLD (888-353-6397) for details. Maybe we'll also do the tried-and-true "running for dollars," with grandparents and others pledging a certain amount per mile. (I'm not a fan of pledges for miles walked; kids, as long as they're not disabled, should be encouraged to run.)

But those are add-ons. If we remember the goal-meeting not only the budget but educational needs as well-we'll keep encouraging students to use their imaginations in turning $5 into much more.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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