By Paula Ann Solis
Putting pencils in the hands of underprivileged children around the world, giving them the chance to write their way to a better future — that’s the motivation behind one student organization in Waco, Upward Bound.
Upward Bound is a federally funded collegiate preparatory program for low-income high school students. Members interact with college students at McLennan Community College, where the program is based, and at Baylor to get a feel for college life. The group has chosen The Pencil Project as one of its many volunteer projects this year. Upward Bound’s counseling specialist, Ameenah Snow, introduced students to this international mission she learned about online.
“I was looking for something the students could do that wouldn’t take a lot of their time because they do have their high school classes and they come here on Wednesday evenings and one Saturday a month,” Snow said. “This was something they could do that would make a big impact to other students like them. It was the perfect project.”
The Pencil Project was born from an experience one woman had while in Africa. The woman saw a child grasping a broken and chiseled-down pencil he would not let go of because it was his most prized possession. That woman’s daughter, Maria Vick, started the organization to correct this problem, according to organization’s website, thepencilproject.com.
Service groups around the world interested in helping with The Pencil Project can contact Vick through the website, at which point she puts service groups in touch with underprivileged schools in Africa and, in some instances, the United States.
The 70 Upward Bound students in Waco are collecting unsharpened, new pencils they will send to two schools, an elementary school in Alabama and a kindergarten to primary level school in Swaziland, Africa. Snow said 94 percent of the students at the school in Alabama fall within the federal income guidelines to receive free or reduced lunch. The students in Swaziland are mostly orphans living with AIDS. According to UNAIDS.org, 22,000 children under the age of 14 were living with AIDS in 2012.
“There is just such a simplicity to it,” Snow said. “ If you don’t have writing utensils, you can’t do your math, you can’t address an envelope and you can’t do a lot of different things that we just take it for granted. We think pencils are available to everybody, but they’re not.”
Snow said students were excited to hear about the new project and they are already planning to repeat it next year. Currently, the students have collected more than 700 pencils. The goal is to give two pencils to each student at the schools they are partnering with, which means the students at Upward Bound are aiming to collect 2,704 pencils by March 31.
Patsy Jones, the project director for Upward Bound, said this project is a learning opportunity for the students as well.
“This lets our students know how fortunate they are to have these simple things,” Jones said. “We want the students to have a sense of citizenship and of giving back. You’re not only serving the community when you do this, you’re really serving yourself because you’re looking beyond yourself and asking ‘How can I help? How can I be of service to someone else?’”
Jones said this service project also serves the greater mission of Upward Bound, which is to prepare students for college. Service projects like The Pencil Project help set students apart when they apply for scholarships and admission to universities, Jones said.
As of now, students are asking classmates, church members and other local business owners to help them reach their pencil collection goals, Snow said. The Upward Bound leaders also have plans to included erasers and sharpeners, if they can reach their pencil goal.
“This gives the students a feeling of accomplishment,” Jones said. “They feel like, ‘We’ve worked for this. This is an achievement. This is a goal I set and I reached it. I reached my goal.”
To learn more about Upward Bound’s partnership with The Pencil Project, contact Snow at 254-495-4877.