April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

High School Librarian Raises $10K for Flint Schools

One of the most powerful elements of being a school librarian is having a global perspective. We see where curriculum collides across disciplines, where student group initiatives align with school goals, and where connections can be made to develop stronger learning opportunities. We also see where there are holes.


The Flint, Michigan water crisis had been in the public eye for about a month when my library media assistant said, “I think we need to do something for Flint.” Our school, Pike High School in Indianapolis, is roughly four and a half hours southwest of Flint, close enough that many of our students and staff have ties to the area. Also, our student population has something in common with Flint’s. Both are predominantly African American and Hispanic with a high percentage at or below the poverty line.

Our initial instinct was to ask for donations of water that we would deliver to Flint. As the logistical challenges of that idea became apparent, we switched our focus to the financial burden the schools would inevitably be shouldering due to this crisis.

School fundraising often lives and dies by the passion for the cause. To be successful, we needed to create an emotional connection to Flint, as well as come up with a fresh idea for a platform, beyond a candy sale or penny war.

Upping awareness

Our awareness campaign not only evoked emotion, but provided in-class connections to the real-world situation. We asked teachers to discuss the crisis in Flint in their classes as it related to their content: economics, environmental science, biology, political science, health, even chemistry. We found articles, screened and shared news video content, collaborated on lessons, and otherwise provided the connection to quality information for our teachers.

We created an infographic to share quick facts and sources for information, which I presented to our student body as part of our Black History Club all-school convocation. It was important to show not only the facts and figures of the Flint crisis, but also the human side.

The campaign was a success. The students started donating. The National Honor Society, Black History Club, Business Professionals of America, and multiple science classrooms became sponsors. In the community, the response was outstanding as well. We targeted businesses owned by school parents and community organizations, such as the YMCA and Pike Township Educational Foundation. In our pitches, we highlighted that all donations would assist with the needs associated with childhood long-term lead exposure.

New fundraising avenue

We settled on a “Focus on Flint” shirt sale with two revenue streams. The first one was selling sponsorships. This gave school classes and clubs, as well as local businesses and organizations, the chance to visibly align with our initiative. Sponsor names appears on the back of the shirts, posters and flyers, and in social media posts. The shirt company gave us a discount, and the sponsorships covered the rest of the cost of the garments.

Selling the shirts themselves was the second revenue stream. The entire selling price of each shirt could now go directly to Flint. But first, we needed to figure out how to motivate purchases. As it turns out, our teachers are motivated by being able to wear jeans to school, as are our elementary and middle-school students, who normally wear uniforms.  We got approval to designate a day when wearers of the shirt could also wear jeans. Having their class or club logo on the shirt, coupled with the high quality of the shirt, was motivation enough for the high school students.

The author presides over the piles of shirts for distribution.

The author presides over the piles of shirts for distribution.

The Expansion

Our district communications officer, while in the process of formally making the connection with the schools in Flint, made our superintendent aware of our project. He decided to take it to all 13 schools in our township! The Pike Schools Focus on Flint Day was born—and we had only four weeks to pull it off.

We ordered over 2,600 shirts. Scaling up from one school to 13 meant I had to wait on 12 points of contact to align. I used collaborative Google spreadsheets for shirt estimates, inventory, and re-order requests. Sorting and delivering so many shirts to so many schools, while keeping up with research paper season, was daunting! While we have an inter-school delivery service, it takes at least a day or two for items to circulate, more if it is multiple boxes or heavy loads.

Members of the Well Read Devils, a book club, sell shirts.

Members of the Well Read Devils, a book club, sell shirts.

When the shirts had been dropped off, and it came time to actually sell them, each school had its own system. Tactics included having the student book club sell during lunch periods, sending order forms home to parents, auto-dialing pre-recorded messages, and setting up tables at evening performances and weekend athletic events. Word spread and sales were strong in most buildings.

March 17, 2016 was a powerful day. Pike Schools Focus on Flint Day was a testament to the compassion our community has for the youngest victims of the Flint crisis. We sold over 1,500 shirts, raising just over $10,000. Pictures flooded Twitter and Facebook, while our hashtag, #pike4flint, allowed everyone to connect with messages of support. Our local Fox and CBS affiliates even came out to cover our story.


Lena Darnay is the full-time librarian and career academy coordinator at Pike High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds an MLS from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a BS in Marketing from Midwestern State University. She’s online as @darngoodreads.

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