When it comes time for students in the NHS chapter here at Thunder Ridge High School in Idaho Falls, ID, to graduate, just about every one of them would say that a highlight was this year’s project where we raised money to build a house for a Ukrainian family displaced by the war. I started teaching in 1989, so I’ve been around for a while, and I know this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
We partnered with a local charity, To Ukraine With Love. Every penny donated to the charity goes toward their projects. In our case, we raised $20,000 to pay for a two-bedroom modular home for a family whose house and village were destroyed by Russian tanks and missiles.
Last summer, a neighbor boy came to my house to raise funds for the charity. He told me how the organization can build a house for a family in Ukraine in only three weeks, and how this effort changes their lives. I thought this would be a great project for our chapter.
Each year, our chapter tries to do a school, a local, and a global service project. The global projects are always the hardest, but when I told the students about the Ukraine project and asked if it was something they wanted to do, they were all in. I told them that hundreds of thousands of homes have been destroyed in Ukraine, so this is just a drop in the bucket. But for the family that gets this drop, it’s life changing. I think that really resonated with them.
To raise money, our students set up booths in stores, went door to door, talked to neighbors, and visited businesses. We received a lot of $1 donations and a lot of coins, but we reached our goal in about five weeks. Once we raised the money, we joined a Zoom call to meet the family that would receive the home. Three weeks later, which is how long it takes for the home to be built and get connected to all the existing utilities so a family can move in, we Zoomed again as they received the key and went through the house for the first time. The home is placed on the family’s own lot and is fully furnished with beds, a refrigerator, and a washing machine.
When we met them, I was struck by how they didn’t react very much. But I realized they had been through so much trauma, and then they get a call from a charity saying they are getting a new house. I don’t think they fully understood what was happening. But in the second video, as they walk through the house, they’re all smiles. In fact, the teenage daughter never stops smiling. Their whole demeanors had changed; relief and happiness just radiated from them.
If the satisfaction from helping this family in such an essential way wasn’t enough, our students got to meet former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to the United States on a 10-day fundraising visit in mid-April. His trip included Idaho Falls because that’s where the charity began and because our students did such an amazing fundraising job.
Local donors paid for 14 of my students and their parents to attend the fundraising dinner, where they met the former president and first lady. They could not have been friendlier. They expressed their gratitude and thanked all the students individually. The former president said that there are things Ukrainians just can’t do for themselves right now, and it’s important for us to know that we are changing their lives.
I guarantee that our students will want to do a project related to Ukraine next year. Another effort of To Ukraine With Love focuses on feeding an entire village. By raising $10,000, students can help provide a hot meal a day for 1,000 people for one month. I think they might want to set a goal of raising enough money to feed one village for two months or two villages for one month. I just know that taking on this project has been life-changing for our students—and not only for the family they helped.