Silver Oak School Makes it PAWsible

Last Thursday, Bright and I had the pleasure of presenting to about 700 elementary schoolers at Silver Oak School in San Jose. We were invited because the whole school is participating in an ingenious fundraiser for CCI called Make it PAWsible. Mr. Laraway, a 5th grade teacher, has personal ties to CCI through his sister who received multiple dogs and dedicated much of her time to volunteer work for CCI.

Did you ever do service learning projects when you were in school? The general purpose is to allow students to practice organizational skills and often teamwork while introducing them to some sort of social responsibility. When I was in school, we did things like cleaning up public parks and collecting gently used clothing for donation.

Silver Oak’s service learning model is much more involved than anything I did in school, and it’s a great example of how to let the kids drive the process.

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This is the cover of the coloring book.

Let them drive.

5th graders at Silver Oak are leading the whole process; they started by researching CCI and created a 20 page coloring book to distribute to the rest of the school. The book alternates pages of student drawings of working dogs with information about CCI and its programs. When they passed out the coloring books, they gave presentations to each class, K-6th grade. That gave them the chance to show they’d mastered the information and teach it to others.

After they’d successfully brought the rest of the school up to speed, the same group of 5th graders prepared an exhibit for family and friends to see, and hopefully to inspire them to contribute. The display consists of several large boards of student artwork, each depicting different aspects of CCI’s programs. As I walked through the exhibit, it was obvious to me that this wasn’t a project they’d been forced to do – their enthusiasm oozed from every piece in the room.

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A student drawing from the coloring book.

Get them engaged.

Make it PAWsible isn’t just a one-event deal – the students have had several opportunities for contact with CCI volunteers, graduates, and dogs, and also with the public, some during school hours and others in the evenings.

A couple of weeks ago, about 30 students went and observed a puppy class led by a CCI contracted instructor. Meeting the puppies and grads and seeing the range of developmental stages put faces with their cause. Equally important, it helped them understand the amount of work that goes into training each dog.

Last week, they divided the school in half and invited a Puppy Raiser and me to talk at two assemblies. They’d already done research on the program, so when we talked, they knew the vocabulary, were familiar with the process, and were already invested in the cause. If you know an elementary schooler, you know that attention spans can be…well…non-existent. But believe it or not, we talked for 45 minutes straight and didn’t have a single issue with the kids, even as young as five! I’m certain that the work they’d already made our presentations more impactful.

That evening, they hosted a reception so that family and friends could go to the school and see the exhibit they’d put together and would have an opportunity to give. At this point, they’ve researched, observed the actual program, created educational material, presented to classmates, hosted a presentation from the organization, and invited the public in to learn about their cause.

Practice real fundraising.

Another really cool piece of this puzzle is the fundraising method – or maybe the cool part is that there are more than one.

Dollar Drive – Pretty typical for a school, right? Each classroom collects cash for the cause and it gets tracked on a big poster where everyone can see it. I didn’t ask, but I assume that the class that raises the most wins a prize.

Exhibit Event – While it wasn’t explicitly a money-collecting event, guests would have the opportunity to give. More importantly, it raised face to face awareness of the fundraiser.

Piggybackr – If you’ve never heard of it, that’s because it’s pretty new. Piggybackr is an online giving system that takes the concept a step further and teaches kids how to raise money – it covers everything from how to write a donation letter to choosing giving incentives that contributors will actually want. On top of it, Piggybackr has to approve all projects, which protects the reputation for legitimacy.

Piggybackr encourages kids to follow through by awarding Achievements for good practices.

Piggybackr encourages kids to follow through by awarding Achievements for good practices.


Reward them for their hard work.

Fundraising for a cause other than one’s own can be tricky to motivate. For kids, sometimes the noble, altruistic reasons are enough, but even so, it’s important to give them a goal to internalize. The kids at Silver Oak School have been promised that if they raise $5,000, they can sponsor a graduation ceremony, which would mean they would be mentioned at the event itself.

Acknowledgment and reinforcement of the fact that the work they’re doing is really making a difference is important to kids, too. When we visited, we praised them for their hard work and explained that what CCI does wouldn’t be possible without kids like them who want to help people.

A place to give on Memorial Day.

In the last few years, CCI has dedicated a huge amount of its resources to placing Service Dogs with wounded veterans through a program called The Wounded Veteran
Initiative
. If you’re looking for a way to honor those who have served and given their lives, consider doing so by giving to a cause that supports their surviving brothers and sisters.

Marine Corps Sgt. John M. Peck, 26, hugs his new service dog Nasar at Canine Companions for Independence in Medford, NY. Photo credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara.  

Marine Corps Sgt. John M. Peck, 26, hugs his new service dog Nasar at Canine Companions for Independence in Medford, NY. Photo credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara. “Medford nonprofit teams wounded vets, service dogs”

Silver Oak School’s fundraiser ends on May 31. Help them meet their goal by clicking here and donating. Every buck counts!

Do you know of a group that had a cool fundraising model? I’d love to hear about it!

*An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Silver Oak as a Saratoga school.

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6 thoughts on “Silver Oak School Makes it PAWsible

  1. I am a student in Mr. Laraway’s Class and I want to thank you for coming in and educating us even more about CCI. If you want to add the site to donate, It’s bit.ly/larawayso. Thank you for motivating so many kids on thursday!

  2. This is such a well written article. You really have a gift for this. It is just so inspiring how one teacher impacted so much. I reposted it on Facebook, I was so touched.

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