Fr. Greg Greiten began his homily at a Wednesday school Mass this past August by waving a $10 bill in the air and asking, “Who wants this $10 bill?” Children stretched their hands high.
Fr. Greg continued by dropping the $10 on the floor and stomping on it.
“Now who wants it?” Hands were raised high again.
“No matter what I do to this $10 bill, you recognize that it never lost its value,” said Fr. Greg. “The same with us as people: we’re very valuable in God’s eyes.”
That was the prelude to Fr. Greiten’s $50 Stewardship Project Challenge at St. Mary Parish School, Menomonee Falls.
“I’m going to give (each class) a $50 bill,” Fr. Greiten told the excited school children. “Now there’s one thing: you don’t get to keep it” (sigh of disappointment).
The goal was not to be a money-maker, but to teach students how to be good stewards of their resources and to reach out to help others.
16 classrooms, 16 projects
After brainstorming and research, each of the 16 classrooms at St. Mary Parish School came up with a different project.
First graders adopted two struggling parish families and gave them a certificate for a Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas stockings, mittens, cards and more.
Second graders supported a 1-year-old boy named Parker and his parents. Parker’s kidneys do not function as he was born with end stage renal failure. He needs 12 hours of dialysis each night, has been in the hospital for 10 surgeries and six other treatments since birth, and will receive his mother’s kidney once he is old enough.
Diane Harley’s sixth grade class supported a needy parish family by purchasing Thanksgiving groceries. The students compiled a list of food items and shopped at Pick ‘n Save together. Pooling together the leftover money from parents’ donations, children bought other items, including a flower plant centerpiece, Advent calendar, cards, doughnuts and a scratch-off lottery ticket – for future good luck!
Harley told your Catholic Herald how the children wanted to deliver the groceries in person, but she had to explain why the family might prefer to remain anonymous.
“We delivered the bags to Deacon Tom Monday at the parish office. When the mother came in and saw the bags, she burst into tears. She said they wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner without us,” she said. The kids learned “how lucky they are,” said Harley. “I was very, very proud of them. And they were proud of themselves.”
Some classes support organizations
Several classes used their $50 to support organizations such as Operation Christmas Child, Ronald McDonald House, Heifer International, which provides rabbits, chicks, and ducks to the poor, Samaritan’s Purse, which stocked a fish pond in Liberia, Humane Animal Welfare Society, and the American Cancer Society. The eighth graders worked to raise additional funds by sponsoring an out-of-uniform “twin” day, where two students dressed as twins.
Sixth grade teacher Sue Schmidt explained to your Catholic Herald that almost everyone originally wanted to help the Humane Society, but she encouraged her class to consider other needs as well. Sixth grader Grace Liacopoulos is adopted from China, and her family sponsors a baby in China through a foundation that helps children with disabilities. Liacopoulos brought in a plea to her classmates to use the $50 to help baby Madeline, who needs heart surgery.
“They learned there are people everywhere hurting and it was hard to decide who to help. They were upset that it was only $50. Some added their own money to it. It was a step outside themselves to see others’ needs. They learned about China and the one child per family policy and the lack of tolerance of children with disabilities. Grace herself has had several surgeries here in America. It helped the other students appreciate what her family goes through,” said Schmidt. “It was a child-driven project. That’s the glory of it.”
Leftovers turn into hats, scarves
Eighth graders in Cathy Ferderbar’s class thought ahead to winter and decided to make five fleece blankets for HOPE Network/The Charter House that helps single moms and their children. They used leftover scraps of material to make hats and scarves.
Eighth grader Lauren Schleicher explained, “It was fun because we worked together – team work. It was eye-opening because of so many different needs. Fifty dollars is a lot, but you wish you had more.”
That’s how many children felt.
“The kids realized how many people need help and they only had this $50,” said principal Linda Joyner. “They thought it was a lot in the beginning, but only to realize after they did the research that they couldn’t help everybody and the need that was there.”
In a Sunday Mass homily, Fr. Greiten said one can always use more resources, “But the challenge of the Gospel is with the resources that you do have, what can you do with them, and how do you make a difference, and how do you bring forth the Kingdom of God.”
Through spin-off homilies, the $50 challenge seeded more stewardship outreach in the parish. For his Christmas homily, Fr. Greiten wrapped up five $10 bills and gave them away to different people who attended the Mass.
“I told them this is Fr. Greg’s gift-giving,” said Fr. Greiten. “Here’s the rule: you cannot keep this gift for yourself; it has to be given away. Secondly, it has to be used to do good. You can help someone, you can support a cause, but I want you to make a difference in the world.”
As Fr. Greiten explained, “That was taking this a step further.”
Putting preaching into action
In the week following his Christmas homily, Fr. Greiten was approached by a parishioner who took his words to heart – the individual gave the priest seven envelopes, each with $11 inside. During the New Year’s homily, Fr. Greiten again challenged parishioners about doing good and making a difference, and gave away the seven envelopes, “and so the whole thing just carried on,” he said.
“It’s exciting, the lessons that have been learned,” said Fr. Greiten. “I could have given 10 homilies on stewardship that would have gone right over people’s heads. It’s putting preaching into action.”
During Lent, each of the Christian formation classes is taking a turn to make a difference with $50.
It’s also putting the mission of parish and school, which is to “Live Jesus,” into action along with this year’s theme to “Serve Others.” What has made this project special is that it is kid-driven.
“We do a lot of service projects here through the school and parish and sister parish in Honduras. We regularly do those things, but I think we’ve always dictated what they choose,” said Joyner. “The kids had to research it. They had to look for the need. And I think that made the big difference with this project. They took ownership of it.”
Joyner has noticed a new sense of awareness in students. After the challenge, half a dozen children approached her about different needs they saw in the community. In one instance, two sixth graders noticed a box at the bank in which toys were being collected for needy children. When they observed the lack of toys in the box, they told their principal about it and asked, “Can we do something to help?”
Recently, Fr. Greiten and a group from the parish left on mission to their sister parish in Honduras. In his luggage Fr. Greiten carried an envelope of $11 given away at his New Year’s Mass and returned to him doubled in amount as a gift for Honduras. That $22 will feed a family of four for a month, providing them with basic rice and vegetables.