Inspired by teacher's project, Dalton fifth grader raises money for Boston Children's Hospital

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WEST STOCKBRIDGE — Kalen Spratt spent the morning of Black Friday pouring coffee for customers at the Public Market. The 10-year-old fifth grader had been offered a chance by market owner Tim Walsh for all the coffee proceeds to go to Boston Children's Hospital.

Spratt made out well for the cause he picked as part of a class project at Craneville Elementary School. He took in more than $1,000, putting his total at $2,500, which also includes new things for the hospital like blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and toys.

He'll also include a gift certificate for nurse shoes. His goal is to raise $3,000.

"It was really fun," Kalen said by phone Monday from his home in Dalton, where, he said, he was doing "not much" on this snow day and was disappointed that school was canceled. "I love math and science. I want to be a scientist."

Teresa Bills, Kalen's teacher, gives her students $5 each at the start of November and asks them to see about growing the money for a cause or charity of their choosing. It's called "The Giving Project."

Then, students have to research organizations and figure out how they'll raise money. On Dec. 12, they will make a presentation to the class about their projects, detailing how they raised the money and how their charity will use it. And they'll talk about why they chose what they did.

For Kalen, it was the suffering of hospitalized children, though he doesn't remember his own brush with it.

"When I was 18 months old, I had to go to Boston Children's Hospital to get a birthmark removed," he said.

Kalen began by writing letters to businesses and other groups, and the money started to roll in. And Friday morning at the market boosted donations. Walsh, having seen Kalen and his project on Facebook, wanted to help.

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"He stayed for another hour," Walsh said. "Once kids see money coming into a jar, they get very excited."

Walsh, who likes to help kids set up lemonade stands outside the store during summer or solicit money for sports teams and other causes, gave Kalen an extra donation. Walsh said he loves it when the visibility of the market can help.

"It's my favorite part of the store," he said.

For Bills, who has been doing this for more than 15 of her 27 years teaching in the district, it's her favorite class project. It is inspired by two former, now-retired colleagues who did something similar.

"It's the best investment I could ever make, return-wise," she said. "Last year, I gave out $120 and they made almost $7,500 that they gave to the local community and even nationally. The economics make a lot of sense to me, never mind the life lesson."

Apart from all the money-making skills, students are also thinking about others, Bills said, noting that it's not just about money — students also can collect things to give, like warm clothes or food for food pantries.

"I tell them from the beginning — it's not how much you make, it's how much heart you put into the project," she said.

And Kalen, also a theater lover who performs with the Berkshire Theater Festival, said that when a man whose son had had open-heart surgery Friday saw what he was doing, he left and came back with a $100 bill, just as Kalen was leaving.

"I felt really good, because we were about to leave and he knocked on our car door," he said. "I felt the love."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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