DeLeon Elementary adopts African orphanage
June 11, 2011 at 1:11 a.m.
Updated June 12, 2011 at 1:12 a.m.
A banner near the entrance of DeLeon Elementary School shows a map of the world with a trail of hearts stretched between Victoria and Angola, Africa.
That's exactly what happened to counselor Leslie Huehlefeld's students when the school adopted an orphanage in the west African nation - their hearts stretched.
"It's contagious. You see one person give, and then you want to," Huehlefeld said.
For about the last month of school, elementary students have been collecting items to give to St. Isabel's Children's Charity - sending about 56 orphans and 4,500 schoolchildren everything from beach balls to socks.
By the time summer break rolled around, Huehlefeld and computer lab teacher Yvonne Barraza were packing up and counting the still-growing pile of donations - 75 sticks of deodorant, 127 pairs of flip fops, one "Hannah Montana" pillow.
A day before school let out, one of Huehlefeld's students, Mallory Hewitt, told her counselor that kids in her classroom were wondering whether she was still collecting items.
Their desire to give has been unending, Huehlefeld said.
For Mallory's part, the 10-year-old's schemes to give to the orphanage were in full swing after Huehlefeld's husband, Roger, showed a presentation to the school about the orphanage he visited while working in Angola.
Mallory immediately went home and told her father. The two went shopping, baked all night and the next day, they held a bake sale at a Pflugerville park.
"I think the feeling of giving - it's heartwarming," Mallory said, wise and confident beyond her years.
The fourth-grader earned $20 selling peanut butter-filled brownies, vanilla cupcakes and lemonade. She then went to the Dollar Store and bought 18 items for the orphanage.
"It made me feel really bad knowing that sometimes I can be rude, and I can be like, 'I want this,' but they don't have that kind of choice," Mallory said.
The entire school used its talents and tastes to contribute to the orphanage across the Atlantic, several students giving up the things they like most - like that special toy or favorite outfit - because they know another child will enjoy it more, Huehlefeld said.
The last month at the school has been the culmination of a year's worth of devotion toward exploring character traits like tolerance, respect and confidence. It's part of a schoolwide program sponsored by the Victoria Rotary Club called EarlyAct FirstKnight.
"I'm very proud of our kids. The last virtue on the list that we've studied for the past month is service," Huehlefeld said. "And this has really taught them about service to others."
Like she said, the spirit of the DeLeon kids has been contagious. Victoria East High School's Golden Sabers and Saberetts jumped on board with collecting donations, which will benefit the teenagers at the orphanage. The company for which Huehlefeld's husband works, Nalco Angola, donated a truck to the orphanage and pledged to give the charity $2,500 a month indefinitely.
"It's been an amazing project, and we're going to do it next year," Huehlefeld said.