Posted by H2O for Life Intern Talia Milavetz
NAPERVILLE, IL- Chris Heffernan and his students are changing the world, one fundraiser at a time. Their newest idea is a life-size game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, where students whirl around on roller skates and try to collect dodgeballs from the center of the gym. While this idea won’t come to fruition until the school year starts up again in the fall, the students have already raised over $20,000 through their previous kid friendly fundraisers.
From magic tricks for tips to musical performances, to plain old going door to door, Jefferson Junior High students have raised $10,000 for their cause, H2O for Life. The students are fundraising to build water sources for their partner schools in India, South Sudan, and the Dominican Republic. Lucky for Jefferson students and their partner schools, Naperville’s local rotary club matched their efforts, contributing another $10,000 to the cause. At the forefront of this success is 7th grade Social Studies teacher, Chris Heffernan.
Heffernan knew he wanted to teach after becoming inspired by his own high school teacher. “He just loved his job and loved doing what he was doing. I thought if I could have half as much fun as he was having, this would be a great career for me.”
Heffernan’s passion for fun and excitement was evident in his fundraising throughout the year. His students made their big event, Walk for Water, feel more like a party than a fundraising event. Most schools involved in H2O for Life plan a Walk for Water where students carry jugs of water for several miles around a track in order to raise money and awareness for the water crisis. Heffernan’s team planned no ordinary walk; their event was complete with a DJ adding to the lively atmosphere. Starting in early March, months before the actual walk, Heffernan’s own children could barely contain their excitement for the event. They would march around the living room chanting,“Walk for Water!”
“The walk itself on one hand is such a fun night for the kids. We had 300 kids at our walk this year, and we had a DJ, and turned it into a really fun environment. And at the same time the students said ‘this sucks’. It was really hard to do and they were only carrying two gallons of water”. Heffernan wants his students to understand that even though this is hard, students without water sources have an even more difficult time collecting water. “Imagine if you had a 5 gallon bucket that doesn’t have a top to it. Now try to figure out how you’re gonna do it”.
Heffernan said that participating in service learning helps students actually understand concepts and encourages them to feel passionate about making a difference.“The years where I just said that there is a water crisis and people are drinking filthy water and traveling great distances for water, the student heard what I said and they said ‘Oh that’s too bad. That’s awful’. But I don’t know what they took with them after that. But those kids in the last few years [who participated in H2O for Life] remember just how difficult it was to lug water around. We had students going to other grade levels and saying here’s why we are doing this, here’s why this matters. They understood the issue more. They became more passionate about it than had they just talked about it, or heard about it or read about it.”
In addition to helping students develop global mindsets and compassion, Heffernan hopes that students participating in service learning might also change the way the community sees them. “Unfortunately, Junior High Kids get looked at by other people in the community and people see them as just these punky obnoxious teens and pre-teens and they’re not. If you give a kid a chance to do something amazing, they will do it every time. Even the kids who were total discipline problems this year in my class came out for the Walk for Water. They brought their parents, they brought their brothers and sisters. That night they were angels and they were doing what they were supposed to do. As a teacher, I wish that this is what the whole world would see. They’d see kids like this and not like the obnoxious punk who is at the movie theater in the mall being rude and stupid.”
While participating in H2O for Life is an incredible experience for local students, the major impact lies in the help they are sending to those in developing countries. “We may have potentially saved someone’s life because they had access to water and wouldn’t have otherwise,” Heffernan said. He went on to explain that H2O for Life is special because it allows him to see pictures of students from partner schools and know that this is where the money is going, and these are the people whose lives he is impacting. Heffernan and his students plan to continue their fundraising efforts in years to come. They have even enlisted other schools in the community to join the cause. “This is not a problem that is impossible to solve. There are solutions out there, it’s just about getting them in place, and getting the money to actually put them in place. If you do the work, you can make a difference.”