Small donors make big impact

Campaign started by Central Montessori students produces scholarships for CSF

Clint Riese
News Editor

A reading assignment led to a third-grader’s letter. The letter led to a schoolwide campaign, and the campaign’s proceeds recently produced two scholarships. 

A campaign started by three Central Montessori Elementary students produced two scholarships for the Forest Lake Area Community Scholarship Foundation. The foundation honored the girls June 3. Front row: School counselor Leah Tanke and sixth-graders Natalie Leko, Bailey Hansen and Maddie Radue. Back row: Scholarship foundation officials Lyle Koski and Lee Sinna. (Photo by Clint Riese)

A campaign started by three Central Montessori Elementary students produced two scholarships for the Forest Lake Area Community Scholarship Foundation. The foundation honored the girls June 3. Front row: School counselor Leah Tanke and sixth-graders Natalie Leko, Bailey Hansen and Maddie Radue. Back row: Scholarship foundation officials Lyle Koski and Lee Sinna. (Photo by Clint Riese)

That feel-good story at Central Montessori Elementary culminated last week with Forest Lake Area Community Scholarship Foundation officials presenting a never-before-bestowed honor upon outgoing sixth-graders Natalie Leko, Bailey Hansen and Maddie Radue.

For three school years, the girls have coordinated a “Cans for College” program in which aluminum cans are collected throughout the elementary and Area Learning Center and recycled. Proceeds piled up until the friends decided this year to use the money for scholarships to ALC graduates.

CSF President Lee Sinna, Vice President Lyle Koski and Board Member Bill Somrock attended the Montessori school’s sixth-grade commencement June 3 to honor the young donors.

“These three girls are very special, not only to us but to everybody, and especially to two young adults in the ALC,” Koski told the crowd of students, teachers and parents. “Because of the work of these girls, those students now have an incentive, and it’s that ‘Somebody cares enough to send me to college.’”

Simple idea
Natalie proposed the cans campaign in a letter to school counselor Leah Tanke. The third-grader had read a book about the environment and wanted to make a difference.

“I was so excited about that because it helps the community in so many different ways,” Tanke told the crowd at the graduation ceremony. “We talk so much about respecting ourselves, respecting others and respecting the environment, and that really hits on all of those.”

Natalie recruited Bailey and Maddie, and they have run the program for three years with Tanke’s assistance. The girls created collection bins, which they empty and sort. Tanke takes the cans in for recycling and manages the proceeds.

“I remember when it reached $100 and I was like, ‘Guess what?’” Maddie said. 

The amount became substantial, and when the girls decided to put it towards scholarships, CSF entered the picture. Sinna and Koski met with the students, who agreed to set up criteria for the scholarships and evaluate the applications.

“They took this challenge very seriously, and they informed me that they would rank them separately and would then discuss their selections in order to reach a consensus,” Koski said. “As the awarding process approached, they presented their recommendation with pages of rationale for their decision, and boldly stated, ‘We have reached an agreement and here is our recommendation.’”

When the graduation ceremony was held for the ALC students, the middle-schoolers were there to present the scholarships to whom Tanke called their “friends at the other end of the building.”

CSF honor
At the sixth-grade graduation, it was the girls’ turn to receive a special honor.

The scholarship foundation’s board had recently decided upon a way to acknowledge those making “significant, meritorious and conspicuous contribution to the foundation’s mission.”

“We decided to create the FLACSF Distinguished Service Award to be issued at times when an act of giving truly represents the mission of our organization,” Koski said. “We couldn’t think of a better example than the ‘Cans for College’ story to represent our first award.”

So it was that Natalie, Bailey and Maddie stood to be recognized by the applause of their peers.

“They are assertive – somewhat bossy – but have hearts of gold,” Koski said, to laughter. “That’s a leader.”

Sinna said it is the first time that students much younger than the foundation’s usual scholarship recipients have provided funds.

“This is the first time CSF donors are influencing the future they will enter early in their lives,” he said. “This is absolutely unique and unprecedented.

  • Mnparent

    Great story. Congrats to the students, their schools and the organization that recognized these students!

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