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Northside students on mission to help
Emma Holland, 11, and Madisen Swindle, 10, behind, volunteer during their recess at Northside Elementary School Friday to help make paracord bracelets. The bracelets are sold to raise money for the Wheelchair Foundation, which supplies wheelchairs to those in need in developing nations. Students have sold more than 450 bracelets so far. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - The school year for fourth- and fifth-graders at Northside Elementary began with a "Change the World" theme that was scaled down to random acts of kindness - opening a door here, a compliment there.

"It didn't take long for them to transform it into something bigger," said guidance counselor Monica Ayers of her students. "Now, we have seen nearly a full year of projects that get bigger and bigger."

A community day popped up in October with kids raking the leaves of the school's neighbors and making visits to the Behring Senior Center to play games with elderly people.

The students took it up a notch when they learned of former Monroe resident Ken Behring's California-based Wheelchair Foundation, which supplies wheelchairs to those in need in developing nations.

"The wheelchairs cost $150 each, and or goal was to pay for 10 of them for a total of $1,500," Ayers said. "Well, they're already at $2,500 - good for 17 wheelchairs. And they're not done yet."

The main endeavor has been the creation of paracord bracelets, also known as survival bracelets. When unhooked, they become a tool of sorts. They are red and black in color, matching both Monroe's sports uniforms and the colors of the wheelchairs.

Their assembly, spearheaded by the school's Kindness Club, has gone on for months and they're being sold for $6 each. One order was for $100.

And get this - the students are sacrificing their recess period a couple of times per week to do the work.

"You don't see that very often," Ayers said.

The kids put on their thinking caps again by creating a hat day, where they donated $1 for the right to sport some headgear. The event raised $305.

Other kids are even spending weekend hours with donation jars at different sporting events. Kaitlyn Elgin and Alex Sutter are among them, bringing in $100 at a basketball tournament.

"I can't put into words how proud I am of them," Ayers said of the year-long effort. "What's most impressive is the willingness of the kids to take it on, to make it their own. They keep asking, "What can we do next? Who can we help next?'"