Author Robert Barr, in his book Building a Culture of Hope, noted that “…the social and emotional learning celebrated in a culture of hope [provides] the foundation of personal strength that is necessary to keep kids traveling a pathway toward their better life.”
Inspired by the Columbus-based Harmony Project, Worthington’s “Hands and Voices of Hope Project” has begun its inaugural year of building and supporting students of character and purpose by cultivating their personal strength for Perseverance to change themselves, Responsibility to change their schools, and Compassion to change their community.
Supported by a grant from the Worthington Educational Foundation, the Hands and Voices of Hope Project began as the vision of the district’s 11 elementary school principals and the Director of Elementary Education. The idea was a simple one: identify students of great potential, and invite them to be part of a community of learners seeking to build a sense of pride, purpose, belonging and optimism that they could share with other young people around them. Their roles as “Character Ambassadors” would mean committing themselves to:
- self-improvement related to their academic life at school,
- modeling improvement in their schools by leading for character, and
- demonstrating improvement in their local community through service.
In each elementary school, 10-15 students in grades 4-6 were nominated by their principal. Upon accepting the invitation, the students then began meeting regularly with their school’s principal and other school Ambassadors to dialogue together about decisions they make to act upon the three commitments, using a project reflection workbook authored by the elementary leadership team to monitor their work on personal improvement goals, as well as the contribution(s) that they make to their school culture.
To fulfill the commitment to community service, the Director of Elementary Education organized three projects, partnering with local service organizations that held special interest for the student Ambassadors. Each Ambassador was asked to commit to one Saturday of service in addition to their school work.
Through the community partnerships, the Hands and Voices of Hope Project connected with The Sedona Grace Foundation which provides assistance to families in need with resources to keep and maintain the health of their pets, which provide emotional support to students. The Ambassadors led a pet food drive that provided donations of 327 pounds of dog and cat food – the largest donation ever for the Foundation. In addition, Ambassadors showed up on a Saturday morning to pack 1500 biscuit bags for the Foundation – a four-month supply!
On Saint Patrick’s Day, Ambassadors worked with the Family Mentor Foundation to build more than 550
“Buddy Bags” using donations they had collected. “Buddy Bags” are provided to needy boys and girls throughout Columbus, stocked with enough breakfast, fruit, snack, and dinner items to feed a child for the weekend. The food used was another result of the character leadership that the Ambassadors demonstrated through their school-based food drives.
Additionally, the Ambassadors were able to donate more than 1000 pounds of food items to the local Worthington Resource Pantry.
The final community service project will involve a local artist, Jeremy Jarvis to create a public work of art that will share a visual message of hope and character. With creative input from the students themselves, Jarvis mocked up a four-panel mural that students will work collaboratively to complete on the weekend of April 14-15. The mural will hang in the Worthington Education Center on permanent display, when not being used as a presentation piece that will travel to elementary for Ambassadors to share and discuss their journey of hope and character with fellow schoolmates in the coming year.
Finally, in Harmony Project style, the Ambassadors will invite their parents and teachers to share an evening of musical reflection and celebration on April 30 at Worthington Kilbourne High School. The “Celebration of Hope Concert” will allow our student Ambassadors to celebrate their work and the adults who supported their journey.
The Hands and Voices of Hope Project is one of the many ways that, in Worthington Schools, we invest in cultivating personal strength and a sense of purpose and character in our students. Our Character Ambassadors are truly living out our district mission: “To empower a community of learners who will change the world.”
- Trent Bowers, Superintendent