More than a dozen students at Lodi’s Erma B Reese Elementary School were recognized for their efforts to help the homeless, elderly neighbors, wounded veterans and those grieving from loss during the holidays.

Radiant Life Church of Lodi on Monday awarded $2,210 to 14 Reese students as part of the A Community Transformed Project.

For the last four years, the church has partnered with the school to undertake the project, which involves having the students write essays about people in the community that have needs requiring a little bit of extra assistance.

“The point is to provide the students with the steps to seeing a need, identifying a need, and figuring out what they can do about that need,” Reese principal Gary Odell said. “And that leads to writing an essay about what they can do to help.”

Fourth grader Ginger Soeth was awarded the “Most Outstanding Essay” award during an assembly on Monday, and received as much as $250. Of that award, $200 went to blankets for donations to various nonprofit and charitable organizations. The remaining $50 will be used to purchase juice and cocoa mixes, and Soeth will sell the drinks to help her purchase more materials to keep making blankets.

The largest award went to fifth-grader Kylie Diggle, who received $300 to purchase sympathy cards. Every Reese student will receive a blank card, and they have the opportunity to send a card to the family of a fellow student who recently passed away from battling an illness.

Many students wrote essays about the student, and the church will be donating as much as an additional $550 to the school for a memorial in the student’s name.

Second grader Vicki Palaez received an “Outstanding Essay” award, and received $200 to purchase items to give to the Salvation Army.

“We want our students to see the needs in this community, and then develop compassion, take the initiative and meet that need,” Odell said.

Pastor Robert Schlipp accompanied the students to Walmart, where they purchased the items they need to complete their donations. He said the church has provided a total of $3,260 in gifts and awards through the ACT project this year.

The relationship with Reese, Schlipp said, was created soon after his family moved to Lodi four years ago. His children attended the school, and said it was only natural to invest in it.

He called the Reese students the real heroes of the ACT project.

“I’m just really hoping these kids can be seen as an inspiration to the entire community,” he said. “I hope that it inspires people that if they see a need, any kind of need, to be part of the solution.”

Schlipp said needs addressed in some of the essays submitted over the years are hard to fulfill. For example, he said one student wanted to get his friends together and visit seniors at assisted living centers to keep them company.

“Some of the best essays I’ve read, we can’t figure out how to fund, because the kids are already doing whatever it is they need to do to solve that problem,” he said. “A lot of times, their needs don’t take money to fulfill, they take time and compassion, and these kids are showing they already have that.”

The church does not only partner with Reese for the ACT program, Odell said. Church members beautify the campus every year as part of the Love Lodi community cleanup day, as well as volunteer as referees for various sports and at the school’s “Noon League” activities.

In addition, Odell said Reese has a long history of showing compassion and giving back to the community, through larger nonprofit campaigns such as Pennies for Patients and Jump Rope for Heart, which raises funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Heart Association, respectively.

When students learned some of their fellow classmates were autistic, they campaigned for autism awareness. When a school staff member was diagnosed with breast cancer, the students raised awareness for that cause as well, Odell said.

“The way I look at it, and the way the school looks at it, is that we’re in the process of developing citizens who are going to be the bedrock of the community for years to come,” he said. “They’re developing not just through academics, but through character. And the ACT program as provided us with the resources to see what compassion looks like.”

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