Making a BIG Difference

At Bertha Holt Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon, students learn to give back through sponsorship and Gifts of Hope.


With paper cups full of paint and minds full of artistic creativity, ninety fourth grade students get working on the project before them. The final product? A striking mural with six faces of children in Holt sponsorship — colored in with a mosaic of vibrant doodles — to be hung permanently in the cafeteria at Bertha Holt Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon.

Named after the woman who along with her husband, Harry, founded Holt International in 1956, Bertha Holt Elementary first opened in 2004 — inspired by the legacy of “Grandma Holt,” and her iconic words that “all children are beautiful when they are loved.” Lining the entryway of the school are display cases full of the Holts’ photos, letters and memorabilia, and each year the school holds a celebration in Bertha’s honor. In continuation of her legacy, the school also holds annual fundraisers to sponsor children through Holt.

“We want to educate the students about who she is, what was important in her life and what we can do to help children now,” says Mandy Robison, a fourth grade teacher at the school and also a Holt adoptive parent. This year, in addition to sponsorship, Holt Elementary decided for the first time to give gifts to children and families in need through Holt’s Gifts of Hope catalog. “Our school’s theme,” Mandy says, “is that all of us can do something small to make a big difference.” And as students raised money for their sponsored children or for Gifts of Hope, this concept became tangible.

Students asked their parents, grandparents and neighbors for opportunities to make one dollar  through small chores around the house and yard. They then pooled their dollars and, as classrooms, they voted on which items they would like to give from the catalog — items like a goat or a cow to help a family generate income, or a bicycle to help a child get to school. This year, chickens were an especially popular choice! But no matter the gift they chose, the school’s principal, Joyce Smith-Johnson, says the children seemed to grasp the impact of their generosity.


With a grant from Imagination International Inc. in Eugene, the school hired local artist Bayne Gardner to draw the outline for a mural based on photos of actual children in Holt sponsorship. The children in the mural live in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Thailand and Vietnam.

“When we look at the world, it seems so big and out of reach,” Joyce says. “‘Children in need’ is too abstract for kids [to understand]. With Gifts of Hope, it’s easy for them to see how it helps and they could see their efforts connect to something real and important.” In fact, many teachers used the fundraiser to teach students just how a chicken or new school supplies could change the life of a child in another part of the world.

“It felt really good,” says 10-year-old Emerson Kearney, who along with her classmates gave chickens as a Gift of Hope. “I think [a child and their family] feel really happy now that they have something to eat every day.”

And the teachers and students at Holt Elementary are committed to continue making a “big difference” for children all around the world through Holt International.

“It’s such a part of the fabric of this school,” says Joyce. “It’s so much a part of who we are and what we do — and we’d like it to stay that way.”

Megan Herriott • Staff Writer

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