To a child, $50 can seem like a lot of money. At St. Mary’s Visitation School in Elm Grove, each classroom received $50 earlier this school year.

Fr. Peter Berger, the pastor of St. Mary’s Visitation Parish, hands out $50 to each classroom teacher. The students used the money to help those in need. (submitted photos)

But the money wasn’t for the students or the teachers. Each classroom was asked to use the $50 to pay it forward, while learning about the six characteristics of stewardship.

Stewardship is the focus of this school year, said Mary Tretow, the principal at St. Mary’s Visitation School. She enlisted the help of Fr. Peter Berger, the pastor of St. Mary’s Visitation Parish, to teach the students about stewardship in a unique way. Each month, students learn and Fr. Peter preaches about one of the six characteristics of stewardship.

In spending the $50 given to each classroom by Fr. Peter in November, the students picked one characteristic of stewardship — either mindful, prayerful, grateful, gracious, committed or accountable — on which to focus their giving efforts.

“When people commit crimes, they get community service and that’s seen as a negative thing,” Michael Falk, the seventh-grade teacher at St. Mary’s, said. “But community service is a positive thing and in this way, it’s seen as an opportunity and a chance to do good.”

At an all-school assembly in early January, each grade shared with the rest of the school how they spent their $50.

The K3, K4 and K5 grades combined their money to buy toys to donate to Children’s Hospital. The first graders packaged 25 goodie bags full of stuffed animals, Mad Libs and other fun items and gave them to an organization that delivers the bags to children going through chemotherapy treatment. The second graders bought honey bees and chicks through Heifer International, an organization that provides livestock and training to struggling communities around the globe.

The third graders stuffed backpacks for Blessings in a Backpack in Waukesha, an organization that helps feed students who receive free or reduced meals during the week and may go hungry on the weekends. The fourth graders used their $50 to donate art supplies for the art therapy group in the veteran village in Racine, and the fifth graders worked with K9 for Warriors, which connects shelter dogs with veterans.

The two sixth-grade classes focused on different efforts; one donated medical supplies to Doctors without Borders, while the other made goodie bags for the clients at the Open Door Café at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist downtown. The seventh graders bought multiple food items for the food pantry at the Congregation of the Great Spirit, which lost its food pantry to a fire in early June. Finally, the eighth graders used their $50 to buy baby supplies for the Women’s Support Center of Milwaukee, which helps women, especially those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, choose life through emotional and material support.

The teachers were experts in helping their classes with this project. At their in-service training in August, each teacher was given $50, and helped out at or donated to causes like the Hebron House and Repairers of the Breach, among others.

Tretow said this experience has given the school community joy, and is an important lesson for the future Catholic leaders the school is forming. She hopes this is an experience the students can draw on in the future.

“If we haven’t taught our students to serve other people, we are not doing our job,” she said.

At the school assembly, Fr. Peter told the students that they did what John had asked in his letter, to love Christ through loving our brothers and sisters.

“I am proud of each and every one of you,” he said to the students. “I want to ask you to keep this going. I am proud of you, but I would be more proud if you take the spirit that you did this in and continue to do good works for others.”