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SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — It was about 8:30 in the morning when a man entered the office at Washington Elementary.

He was looking for Ann Dickinson, the teacher who oversees the sixth-grade Design For Change elective. The visit ended with a generous donation, an inspirational story and a lot of tears. But first, a little background information is in order.

Dickinson’s 2016-2017 Design for Change students decided to tackle the issue of teen suicide in the community after learning there had been six in just two years. The kids embarked on an extensive outreach and research process, became positive role models for kindergartners, implemented a buddy bench at their school, set up a “catching compliments” board, as well as several other tasks throughout the year.

“It was amazing,” Dickinson said during a Wednesday Rotary Club of Sandpoint meeting, where she told the kids’ story, as well as the story of the donation.

Toward the end of the year, Dickinson submitted the project to Design for Change USA. Of the hundreds of teams across the country who submitted projects, the group of Sandpoint students were chosen as national ambassadors to represent the United States in Spain during the Be the Change conference. Thirty-two countries will be represented at the conference.

But with that honor comes the need for fundraising. The group needed to raise $20,000 to cover expenses for six students and parent chaperones. The fundraising began in May, and recently, with the conference less than a month away, they were still $2,800 short of their fundraising goal.

The Daily Bee was contacted recently by Rotary member and former president Pierce Smith, who said the club would match up to $1,000 in an effort to help the group reach their goal. In the email, Smith said Rotary is a “strong supporter of our schools and students, and is especially impressed and proud of these students and their teachers.”

The article published the next morning — the same day the man showed up at Washington Elementary.

Dickinson said he came in and introduced himself to the school secretary as their neighbor; he lives about a block away from the school. He said he was there to donate to Ann Dickinson, and since she happened to be in the office, she introduced herself. He told Dickinson he was getting his car fixed that morning when he saw the Daily Bee article. So he started to write out a check, asking who to make it out to, while Dickinson stood nearby.

“I see him start writing the amount, and I was floored,” she said.

The amount he wrote on the check was $1,800. With the $1,000 match from Rotary, the group had reached their goal. And the story doesn’t end there.

“He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘I am a suicide survivor, and what you are doing is extremely important and I want you to know that,'” Dickinson said.

Everyone in the office was crying, she said, tears welling in her eyes as she recalled the visit. By coincidence, Dickinson had a meeting set up with the kids that night to discuss their itinerary for the trip, giving her the perfect opportunity to tell them about the donation and the man who gave it.

The kids were excited to learn they had raised all the funds, and really took the story to heart, Dickinson said.

“I looked at them and I said, “You guys may never know, quite possibly, the impact of your project,'” Dickinson said. “They know some of the impact, they’ve heard some of it, but this just reiterated how important their work was — and it’s continuing to be important.”

The group of now seventh-graders are so passionate about their project, they are continuing their mission at Sandpoint Middle School with Sources of Strength, a nationally recognized suicide prevention program designed to spread hope, help and strength.

The kids also had a documentary film company come to town to interview them. And when they were told they would be given GoPro cameras to wear in Spain, “their faces just lit up,” Dickinson said.


Information from: Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee,