Cindy Lee, HSA Operations Manager at HealthcareBank
Tara Shilling, sixth grade teacher
Jessica Magnuson, sixth grade teacher
Carl Ben Eielson Middle School (Fargo Public Schools)
With two children of her own, Cindy Lee is well aware of limited school budgets. "A lot of teachers are doing projects out of their own volition and own pockets," explains the HSA operations manager of HealthcareBank, a division of Bell Bank.
So after receiving her 2019 Pay It Forward funds, Cindy reached out to her son’s teacher at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School in Fargo to see if there was a need in the classroom.
A couple months later, sixth grade teachers Tara Shilling and Jessica Magnuson proposed a project based learning (PBL) activity. Launched with the help of Dakota Medical Foundation, the project aligned perfectly with Bell’s Pay It Forward mission.
“The students worked in collaborative teams to research the makeup of our community and created a plan to raise awareness and support for a nonprofit of their choice,” Jessica explains, noting the range of organizations – from animal causes to Habitat for Humanity and United Way’s School Supply Drive – students chose.
Each team presented their research and innovative solutions to volunteer judges in a boardroom-style format. Cindy and her colleagues – Allison Flynn, Ross Paquin and JaNell Carpenter – all played a part.
“The students needed to know a great deal about their organization so they could persuade the judges to choose their nonprofit as the ‘winning’ organization,” Tara explains.
With Cindy’s Pay It Forward donation of $1,500, the teachers awarded first, second and third place teams with $400, $200 and $200 (respectively) to donate to the charity they’d researched. The remaining 47 students were given a $10 gift card to pay it forward on February 14 during Dakota Medical Foundation’s “Giving Hearts Day,” the largest 24-hour giving event in North Dakota.
After winners were announced, a few students were inevitably disappointed to find they hadn’t won.
“One student stood up and said, ‘Actually, we are all winners here because so much money is going to help nonprofits around the area just because we did this project!’” Jessica recalls. “It was so great to see the students not only supporting the community, but each other as well.”
The final leg of Cindy’s philanthropy funded a bus trip to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, providing a hands-on opportunity for the students to give back with their time.
“We were able to put our own hands to work and show the students it isn’t just about money, it’s about going out and doing good within our community,” Tara says.
While the project started as a way to bridge many learning goals with community outreach, it became so much more than that. “Young adolescents feel empowered in knowing they can have a positive impact on their community,” Jessica says.
"This whole Pay It Forward program is such an incredible thing Bell does,” Cindy says. “It's just mind-blowing to me that Bell supports this cause because it's important to me and an opportunity to help."