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Students raise funds to bring clean water to Haitian people

Students raise funds to bring clean water to Haitian people

Lexi Risner wasn’t the only Sparta Middle School sixth-grader inspired to help students and their families in Haiti. But at more than $500, she holds the record for raising the most money for the cause.

Raising money for and learning about Haiti has been a long-time focus in an annual social studies unit that turns student attention to global problems, said teacher Bob Toole.

Sixth-grader Sawyer Werkaman shows one of the coasters he made to raise funds for Haiti

“Sparta sixth-grade students have been studying about the world within and beyond Sparta’s borders and while learning, they have done an amazing job to help people far from their neighborhood streets,” he said.

During the global problems unit this year, students received a visit from a young man from Haiti, who is currently living in West Michigan while attending college.

Sixth-grader Caden Wilk was particularly moved by listening to his stories. “It is amazing to me that he said sometimes as many as 10 to 14 people live in one very small house,” said Caden. “I also learned that most times they don’t even have clean water.”

“He (the visitor) said his favorite thing about being here was taking a warm shower,” added Lexi.

“A huge number of deaths there are because of unclean water. It made me think: ‘How would we feel if we didn’t have water?’” said sixth-grader Gracelyn Thorne. “Here we take it for granted and sometimes waste it.”

Olivia Monarrea and Allison Fosmore look at the Haitian flag, held by Lexi Reister

Learning through Fundraising 

For 15 years, Sparta students have connected with Haiti, and to date, according to Toole, sixth-graders have raised over $45,000 to provide a variety of things for the country including soccer balls, money for schools, food, and filters for clean water.

This year, representatives from Pure Water for the World, a charity that partners with Haiti, took notice and offered to match money raised by this year’s class. “That pledge drove our students to commit to raising money like never before,” Toole said.

Representatives Bill Donberg, who serves on the board of directors for the organization, and fellow board member Ann Porter met with students.

“One out of 10 children under the age of 5 will die largely because of water-borne illnesses,” said Donberg, who has worked to fund water filters as well as help install them and train Haitian people on their use. “The good news is there has been rapid improvement. In the 1960s, it was 10 times worse.”

Sixth-graders Caden Wilk and Gracelyn Thorne show how the water filter works

While students were quick to tell what they learned about Haiti and its people, they were equally enthusiastic about how they raised funds to help.

Some said they asked relatives to donate, and canvassed the neighborhood, sharing facts they learned at school. Some did extra chores to earn dollars to donate and others found creative ways to earn money.

“I made cookies and sold them at church,” said Oliva Monarrez. “I used an engraver to make specialty coasters,” said Sawyer Werkaman, showing blocks of wood with a Michigan State Spartan and a Detroit Tigers logo.

This year’s sixth-grade class raised over $6,000 and that included 19 students who raised over $100 each.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.


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  1. Could you share a picture of what the water filter looks like and how much it cost? I was involved in a 2011 Bethesda mission to Les Ceyes by passing out over 250,000 Pur water packets located in Port-au-Prince and brought to families throughout Les Ceyes area and showed the families how to use them. It was a very worthwhile mission and I had an opportunity to make a difference.


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