School Supplies Drive comes to an end

With great sadness we are announcing that our School Supplies for Afghan Children Project has come to an end. With my retirement from the military & new civilian career, we simply don’t have the resources to keep the program running. We want to thank the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation for the ability to run the program under their organization from 2009 to 2012 and fully support the foundation’s decision to end the project as we move away from the Foundation’s home base in Tampa. We also want to thank the University of South Florida Honors College for allowing us to make the project into a college-level service learning course.  We thank all of our thousands of supporters in the Tampa Bay area and around the US – you’ve made an great difference in the lives of Afghan children and the US troops who have tried to help them get the education they  need.

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A Whole Semester of Learning

My last exam just ended and finally I am getting to breathe a sigh of relief knowing this semester has come to a close.  This semester has been one of the hardest and yet most rewarding of my academic career and I have this class to thank for that.

My course load generally consists of large lecture courses and labs.  Its the reality of being a science major.  Its structured, grueling, and usually involves lots of studying and taking exams.  Taking a class like this honors course was a whole new experience.  For once I got to learn through experience rather than my performance on a test.  In a way this was far more enriching for me.

The USF Interdisciplinary Science Building: Photo Courtesy of The University of South Florida

Instead of listening to lectures we had open conversations, we got to ask questions and give each other feedback as a group.  I loved being able to have control and to learn that I had the ability to make the effort for change myself.  I won’t lie it was stressful at times and overwhelming but more often then not my efforts worthwhile and many of the people I recruited to help collect school supplies more than rose to the occasion.

I found amazing support from a variety of sources including friends, family and family of friends.  I was amazed how my actions inspired others to help and I was especially impressed by how the Sister’s United Muslim Association (SUMA) was completely committed to this cause.  At the end of the semester my collections combined with those of my classmates combined to make up a total of 133 boxes.

Afghan Girls with Donated Beanie Babies: Photo Courtesy of Rex Temple

I’ve learned a lot and I feel like we’ve accomplished some incredible things.  I cannot wait to hear about the schools that receive our donations and to see the excitement on the children’s faces.  If you are interested in continuing to follow the progress of our charity, check out our Facebook.

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Old Sayings, New Meanings

On our way to filling up Professor Temple’s car with our last shipment of school supplies, during our last moments of our semester long Major Works/Major Issues, I turned around to look back and among the silence I heard….. SQUEAK… SQUEAK… SQUEAK!!! Shelby, my fellow classmate, was wheeling over about twenty or so boxes and the cart she was wheeling them on was making a very distinct squeak every few seconds. We all started giggling about it, but then a thought popped into my head. I asked aloud, “What is that saying about squeaky wheels?” Another classmate responded, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Wheels may not look like this anymore, but the old saying still rings true today... (Photo from tikpress.wordpress.com)

The squeaky wheel gets the grease…. Coincidentally enough, I feel like this a lesson that I have learned throughout this semester. For those of you unfamiliar with the saying, it basically refers to the phenomenon that when you speak up about something you get attention, or even sometimes the response you want.  This semester I wanted to fill at least 10 boxes full of school supplies to ship to Afghanistan. I wanted to pass along a small piece of what I have had since birth here in America; guaranteed education.

At first, I was unsure and apprehensive of how I was going to achieve this. I was having an especially hard time with the process because a large aim of the class was to use social media as a way to promote raising school supplies. Unlike the typical person, before this class I did not have a Facebook or a Twitter account. Honestly, I personally dislike social network sites. In my opinion, Facebook and Twitter provide the perfect platform to nurture narcissistic, self-absorbed, over-dramatic, nosy, and attention-deficit tendencies in all of us. How could they possibly be utilized to help make a positive social change?

Well, it seems that I got carried away with my cynical views. Facebook could be harboring some unflattering traits in us, but it also provides a wonderful medium and opportunity to catch people’s attention. Through the use of blogs, links, and weekly Facebook/Twitter statuses I was able to grab the attention of my friends and coworkers. After that, persistently keeping up with these networks and talking about the cause led to large donations (over 10 boxes worth). Furthermore, my classmates must have similar successes with social networking, because we collected more than 133 boxes of school supplies all together.

68 of the boxes in Professor Temple's car -- congratulations to our class for such a successful semester! (Photo by Jenna Cummings)

Summing it up, my squeaky wheel got the grease and social networking really helped to increase the span that the squeak reached. So, I have one last squeak for you: It is never too late to help – click here to be a part of the very special cause I was a part of this semester.

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The Incredible Journey

By taking Social Media, Social Change this semester it has certainly been one of the best experiences of my college career thus far. To image a group of just ten honors students were able to accomplish as much as we did, is simply incredible. I really enjoyed the hands on approach of this course; it allowed me to be creative, innovative, and hopeful that with hard work, determination, and patience, in the end, I would be a success.

School Supplies for Afghan Children is such a wonderful project and by using social media to raise funds and bring awareness to a cause that so many people turn a blind eye to, was perhaps one of the biggest accomplishments. By highlighting these issues to members of our community, we were able to rally support and raise awareness on so many different levels. Now, our goal of collecting 110 boxes of school supplies for the Afghan children was certainly achieved. We collected a total of 133 boxes of school supplies and we will be receiving more supplies in the coming weeks. I am delighted to know that we are changing the lives of many Afghan children, who rely greatly on the school supplies we have collected in order for them to attend school.

The Journey was long but it was well worth it! (Photo Courtesy http://www.90percentofeverything.com)

I would like to say thank you to everyone who have supported me on this journey, particularly Bishop Regester of the New Life Christian Fellowship Church, I so greatly appreciate your support and the support your congregation have showed me throughout this experience. Alex, I want to say thank you for your help in getting the word out about this project and for collecting school supplies for me as well, you made this entire experience that much easier for me. Thank you to the USF postal service for providing us with all the shipment boxes for our many boxes of school supplies. Thank you to Dean Silverman and the USF Honors College for making this great cause into a course. I assure you, this experience was far more effective to me than any traditional textbook based honors course I have ever taken. Most importantly, thank you to my classmates for working so hard in making this semester a success, I will miss you all.

I would like to extend a special thank you to my instructor Liisa Temple and her spouse retired SMSgt Rex Temple. SMSgt Temple, I am so thankful that you were able to see the importance of education for these boys and girls in Afghanistan during your tours there and to realize that education was the only way out of poverty. By you realizing this urgent need for change within the educational system in Afghanistan, is the reason why this course even came into effect. Thank you for your service and thank you for changing so many lives.

Oh Liisa! I’ve had an amazing time with you this semester, I could not have asked for a better outcome. You are so passionate about this cause and go to the extreme length to accomplish our goals. You’re hard working, sensitive to the needs of the Afghan children, and I loved your hands on approach to everything throughout the semester. Your teaching style is simply the best and thanks for always being that voice to say: “I hope you guys realize you’re doing a great job”, hearing you say that was a reassurance for me to keep trying and to excel in this course. I wish you all the best in the future and I hope your next class will appreciate this experience as much as I did. Thank you!

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Long Awaited Endings and New Beginnings

Some of the boxes packed on April 16th during class. Photo by Alejandro Cuesta.

On this last week we came to class excited about the progress we’ve made in our collections. Paper and pens flew through the air as we rushed to finish the mountains of supplies we gathered into such a vast field of boxes. It was a sight to see; but we were all so caught up in the moment, we forgot to capture it on film. By the time we realized how much we’d done it was time to load up the boxes for transport. Last week we’d filled up Mrs. Temples trunk with our boxes; this week, we almost had to strap the spares on the roof.

At our last class meet we packed 68 boxes! That’s 1.5 times (rounded to the nearest whole box) our sum of 45 from last week; giving us 113 boxes as of Monday. That alone was beyond our initial goal, but there were still boxes of supplies we couldn’t pack in the 2 hour class time.

The boxes lined up at the Post Office. Photo Credit: Liisa Hyvarinen Temple

With the semester ending, it’s a good time to look back and think about all that as happened; doubly so for me as I end not only this semester, but my undergraduate career this week as well. It’s a little unnerving now that everything’s done and there are still so many questions. What now. Where will I go. The only solace I can count on is that life goes on. I’ve been blessed with so much that I even have the chance to feel this uncertainty; and perhaps one day the children of Afghanistan too will experience it first hand.

So for the last time, follow this link for a list of items collected for school supply donations or if you have supplies for donation. Thank you for your support, take care, and goodbye.

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Lessons Learned

Have a little faith. That is the main lesson I learned from this semester partaking in the School Supplies for Afghan Children drive.

Intrigue: my initial feeling when I heard about this class. I liked the idea that I would not have to do many papers or tests, but instead could devote my entire time to one big project. I had never organized my own service project, so I was intrigued by the idea that I would get this opportunity to challenge myself and do something I have never done to help others. In addition, I was drawn to the fact that this class involved social media. Being a journalism student, I understand the importance of social media in today’s society for getting the word out; technology is becoming ever prevalent and writing has increasingly transferred to the Internet. I was intrigued, therefore, to see how social media would help us succeed in our fundraising goals this semester.

Packing the remaining boxes in our final class of the semester (Photo taken by me)

Fear: When the class actually started, I was incredibly intimidated. How was I going to achieve so much in just a semester? And I found out that not only were we collecting for one charity, we were adding another one in towards the middle of the semester. This seemed like a lot to take on. I had no idea how all of this would happen, how I was going to find time to accomplish this magnanimous task before me.

Disappointment: I suffered disappointment right off the bat. The minute people started saying the word “no” to me, I knew that this was going to be a lot harder than I first thought. This was going to try me in ways mentally that I had never been tried before. I was going to face disappointment after disappointment as people turned me down, but it was how I tackled those disappointments that would make the difference between me succeeding or not.

Determination: Disappointment quickly turned into determination. I wanted to help change these kid’s lives. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I would exhaust all resources to achieve what I set out to achieve. I would rack my brain of all alternatives on how to accomplish even more. I wouldn’t stop at 100% but strive for 120%.

Hope: Now I have hope. This long journey may be over for me as the semester comes to a close, but it is just the beginning of changing these kid’s lives. It is just the beginning of my ability to help those less fortunate.

68 boxes in one day (Photo taken by me)

I have a renewed energy and a feeling of accomplishment that no textbook-based class could ever have fulfilled. I feel extremely blessed to have been given this opportunity. I feel like I not only made a difference in the lives of others, I made a difference in my life, for the better.

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Coming to a Close

Last night I stopped in to Sacred Grounds coffee house to pick up the last of the supplies I would be collecting this semester. The box wasn’t over flowing, but it was certainly more than I had been expecting.

It’s strange, now that everything is winding down. The last of the donations are trickling in, and the vast majority of the boxes have been shipped. In fact, those we sent in the beginning of the semester have already arrived in Afghanistan, ready to be transferred to teachers in Kabul. Monday was a huge endeavor, with the class working together to sort and pack 68 boxes, filling a mini-van to the very brim. Enthusiastic grins, jokes, and high spirits abounded.

Packing Boxes

Sorting and packing donated supplies, surrounded by fervent activity and piles of boxes. (Photo via Shelby Register 2012).

Today I came in a bit before my last class of the school year to drop off my few remaining items and help with the few stray packages that remained. It was quieter, and in a way more profound. Compared to the huge send off of Monday, it seemed a more gradual halt, a dwindling down. We only sent out three boxes, bringing the current total to 136. And while impressive, the efforts are not done by any means, and in fact there will probably be a number of boxes packed and shipped after today, but it feels that the hill has been climbed, that we have, as a group, entered the denouement of our story and now pass the torch back into the capable hands of the charity’s hardest workers – those who started it, and who will see it through for however long they can. It seems ages ago that a journey started, and now it is, for me, coming to a sort of end.

However, I am not sure that what was started here will ever really finish. After we had finished loading up a shipment a couple weeks ago the class was approached by a writer from the USF Oracle, a free newspaper run by students. They ended up publishing some of my words, which I would like to re-quote here:

“It’s a life-changing experience. Even if someone comes in and they hate the class and they never want to touch another pencil again they would be getting something out of it. It makes an impact. It’s not something you can turn and forget about.”

It’s true, the experiences I have had here will never go away, and being able to meet and work together with these amazing people has had a profound effect on me. I give my thanks to everyone who made this possible, and to everyone who was able to make a donation and help our cause.

It’s been great.

Signing off,
Shannon

via Liisa Hyvarinen Temple

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Packed up hope.

Sixty eight boxes were packed today; they filled the classroom, the desks, and the hallway in front of our class. All 10 of us worked hard filling and taping boxes, stacking them on carts, and writing customs forms. It was a coordinated group of dedicated students, each with their own job. I was surprised when I walked into class today, amazed at how many boxes we had collected. We have surpassed our goal of 100 boxes and still have supplies left.

Cart full of Boxes (photo by Archana Reddy)

Excitement buzzed through the classroom this morning. I had arrived late because I had to go pick up school supplies from a family friend who had taken a box to her office. I collected a box full of paper, pens, and pencils from her; I greatly appreciate her involvement in the project and her willingness to help me with the class. With her help I filled 11 boxes, exceeding my own individual goal. As I walked into class I was taken aback by how many boxes were sitting around; so many of my fellow classmates collected more than just 10 boxes on their own, and we were all surprised by our own success.

Although we had become discouraged along the way and many of us lost confidence in our own abilities, we were able to reach our goals. We surprised each other by how hard we worked, and in the end it didn’t matter who brought in what box because we were all working together for a single cause. As we loaded the boxes into Professor Temple’s car I imagined them travelling far across the ocean and desert. I imagined the pencils we packed in the hand of a little boy or girl as they sat in a small classroom. I also imagined the smiles on the faces of the little boys and girls as they would receive their supplies, and how it would bring them a little bit of hope.

68 Boxes loaded into the car (photo by Archana Reddy)

I packed my heart into those boxes, packed my hopes and dreams of this war ending. Each of us did; we packed a semester of hard work, taped up all the letters we wrote, events we held, and everything we have learned in the class. We sent those boxes far away to a distant place none of us have seen, to the hands that belong to small beating hearts that grasp onto hope.

Posted in Afghan War, Afghanistan, Awareness campaigns, blog, Change, Charity, Children, Children, Education, Fundraising, helping, Holland & Knight Foundation, Inspiration, Opportunities, School Supplies for Afghan Children, Shipping, Social media, University of South Florida, USF Honors College, veterans, War in Afghanistan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organized Chaos

I came to the last meeting of our Honors class yesterday morning with a box full of supplies to be packed into the flat rate shipping boxes  I was also juggling on the walk from my car to the classroom.  When I entered the room already their were boxes waiting to be filled with the massive amount of supplies that my classmates and I had collected. One by one as we arrived we made ourselves busy in all the ways that were needed. Organizaing the supplies to fill the boxes to the brim, cutting address labels, taping the boxes and filling out custom forms.

The room was full of school supplies, our energy, and laughter as the mounds of supplies slowly began to get stuffed into the shipping boxes.  My only regret is that I was working so intently that I forgot to take pictures! I never thought we would fill so many boxes, but as my classmates brought out box after box all I could do was smile and congratulate everyone on their hard work and effort.

The boxes lined up at the Post Office. Photo Credit: Liisa Hyvarinen Temple

It was only last week that we shipped out 45 boxes to Afghanistan and this week we packed Professor Temple’s Jeep with a total of 68 boxes! I could not believe the amount that we accomplished in one week – well after a semester of work building up to it that is. Everyone had smiles on and I could feel the difference in the atmosphere.

There were times in during our Monday morning class sessions that the air in the Honors College classroom was filled with fear and anxiety. We would get let down by something that did not live up to our expectation, we would worry that we wouldn’t live up to our own expectations.  But yesterday there was no worry, no anxiety, no fear.

We talked about what we had learned throughout the semester and summed up all the lessons into one word – persistence. During the semester there was no giving, no letting ourselves or each other get down. We had to keep going, and our persistence lived on down to fitting the 68th box into the back of our Professor’s car like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle that we would never forget completing.

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The End of the Beginning

Me standing with the 68 boxes that have Professor Temple's car burst at its seems. We just barely fit all the boxes in. Thanks for your hard work, Car! Photo Credit: Shelby Register

Sigh. Today was our last day of class for this semester. Our last day in this class with this group of classmates. Our last day actively collecting school supplies. Today was a really amazing day for our class. It was so great to see the culmination of our joined efforts be manifested in 68 boxes. That’s right! Today we are shipping out 68 boxes. 23 more boxes than last week. The number itself doesn’t do justice to how much it is. To walk in the room and see just how much that really means. To see the quantity of supplies that will now be passed on the future really put our 4 months of work into prospective.  We actually got into a problem today because despite all of our post office runs we still ran out of boxes. So the packing will continue on Monday but our class time has ended here.

Although it is The End… it really is only the beginning. We won’t be meeting together every week and some of us may never meet again but our time together is something that I don’t think any of us will ever forget. We really worked together, the ten of us. We planned, coordinated and discussed. We bonded over our difficulties and frustrations. We were a team. A team that reached its goal. A team that will forever be grateful to the Temple’s for seeing a need and filling it. A team that will be forever grateful to the Honors College at USF for bringing this opportunity to us. A team that is grateful to all the help they have received during this journey.

Despite the semester being over, the charity does not. If you would like to continue to donate or you have just found us now check out the info section of this blog and also follow us on Facebook.

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