White Rock Elementary students, parents and teachers take two things very seriously: Reading and helping others.

A few years ago, the school combined the two with Read for Need, an annual spring fundraiser. Students line up pledges from family members and friends for every book or chapter they read over the course of a month. All the money raised is given to El Socorro elementary school in Juarez, Mexico, which is White Rock Elementary’s sister school.

The first year, students raised $10,000 and paid for a new playground at the school. Then they raised $15,000 each of the next two years, paying for uniforms, school supplies, books and scholarships to junior high because many of the families can’t afford to educate their children past grade school.

“I was brought to tears,” says Brent Barry, the White Rock father who created the program. “Just because I know the plight. $10,000 to us is a lot. It’s like $100,000 to them. I was also taken aback by the kids who got it. You don’t get that from 9-year-olds very often.”

Barry is a Presbyterian minister and has taken several mission trips to the Mexican town. He’s always struck by the need, and vividly remembers his first visit.

“We were going to deliver some basic needs – mittens, cold medicine,” Barry says. “We traveled down this gravelly, dirty, dusty road. There were 100 kids, and they were meeting in the back of a broken-down school bus. All these kids were waiting in line for these items like it was Disney World.”

Barry created a slide show to kick off every Read for Need campaign, so that each year, White Rock students can see the community they are helping. Then for a month, parents encourage their children to read. At the end, the school holds an assembly with a mariachi band, and Socorro’s principal comes to collect the money.

“I expected a couple of thousand dollars,” Barry says of the first fundraiser. “They don’t know these kids. They’ve only seen pictures. But they had compassion.”

The program also benefits the students at White Rock Elementary, says Tina Hageman, chair of the White Rock PTA’s multicultural committee.

“Mostly, when my son was in kindergarten and Read for Need started, he got it,” Hageman says. “He really understood it. It got him engaged in reading…knowing he was doing it for someone else made a tremendous difference for him.

“It’s great for our kids at White Rock. It’s not just selling wrapping paper. It’s something educational for them, and it’s philanthropic. It allows them to do something for someone else.”

READ FOR NEED

WHEN/ April 1-30

WHAT/ White Rock Elementary students will drum up pledges for every book or chapter they read during the month of April. The pledge money will be collected beginning May 5, and a check will be presented to the principal of El Socorro during a special celebration on May 9.

TO MAKE A PLEDGE/ Contact Tina Hageman at 214.443.7730 or tohageman@yahoo.com.