GREENWOOD, SC – Some things were just meant to be. That’s how Sandy Shaffer felt when she read a story on GwdToday about young Nehemiah Dandy, a boy with the rare condition known as Angelman Syndrome. Nehemiah needs a service dog and Shaffer is quite familiar with service dogs, having one in her A-Team classroom at Springfield Elementary School. So she pulled up the story and put it on her promethean board for her students to read. Thus began The Nehemiah Project.
Jean Downing has been the secretary at Springfield for a number of years. Her daughter, Abney, used a service dog while she attended Westview Middle School and Emerald High School. Abney has now outgrown the dog, a labradoodle named Piper, and so Piper hangs out with Shaffer’s special education class, better known as the A-Team.
“Piper’s a good dog,” said Navyn Cook, a member of the A-Team. “She puts her head on our desk to calm us down when we get mad.”
Cook, along with fellow A-Team members Ja’Keyviaious Witt, Dakota Driggers and Jarvese Griffin, knew they had to do something to help Nehemiah get his service dog, so they did what any other elementary school student would do – they sprang into action.
The A-Team came up with a bunch of ideas to help Nehemiah by raising money at the school. Their first task was to get the word out, so they designed posters and flyers to place throughout the school to let people know about The Nehemiah Project. They then began a contest by placing money collection boxes in every classroom and offering a prize for the class that raises the most money. The prize? A week with Piper. The A-Team also solicited the help of Shaffer and some of her colleagues and friends to bake brownies and sell them.
Nehemiah and his grandmother, Betsy Shields, came to visit the A-Team after hearing about the students getting involved. The A-Team gave Nehemiah a basketball goal as a present and baked them some blueberry muffins for their visit. Apple juice was used to wash the muffins down while Nehemiah taught them some sign language. A friendship was born.
Each day two students go to every classroom in kindergarten, first grade and second grade while the other two go to every classroom in third, fourth and fifth grades. One student guards the cart while the other politely knocks on the door and asks if they have any money that day. The money is placed into cups labeled with the teacher’s name and brought back to the A-Team classroom to be counted. Shaffer verifies the count and puts the totals in a spreadsheet to keep track of how each class is doing. The results are announced daily during the morning announcements.
Until last Monday, Mrs. Rhodes class was in the lead, but a pair of $50 donations catapulted the A-Team into the lead. The real heart of these students was captured when they realized they were in the lead.
“If we win, we don’t get Piper for a week,” Driggers informed the group. “Our prize is pride in helping Nehemiah.”
The Nehemiah Project comes to an end on January 31. Midway through the fundraiser the A-Team has collected over $1,000 to help Nehemiah get his service dog. The cost of the dog is $8,000 and a donation of $1,000 coupled with Shields’ down payment of $500 left a balance of $6,500. Shields was not sure how she would be able to pay the balance and sought help.
She got it from a place where everyone should look first – the A-Team.
To make donations to the Nehemiah Project, simply drop by the school during school hours. There is a collection box in the main office. Checks can be made payable to Springfield Elementary School and noted for the Nehemiah Project. Make sure to give the A-Team high fives while you’re there.