La Jolla’s Bird Rock Elementary class embarks on community giving: Torrey Pines Rotary Club grants $500

Kristi Nelson’s Bird Rock Elementary first-grade class, with Torrey Pines Rotary Club president Henri Migala and a check for $500.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Inspired by the poem “The Boy and the Starfish,” adapted from an essay by Loren Eiseley, first-grade students in Kristi Nelson’s class at Bird Rock Elementary School are striving to make a difference in their community and the world — one project at a time.

The poem (see below) is about a child making a difference to one starfish on the beach, which the class has taken to mean executing one project per month to make the world a better place. This year, the Torrey Pines Rotary Club gave the class a $500 grant to help them in their efforts.

“Our motto is ‘Be part of this world, not just in it,’ ” Nelson said. “So we’ve come up with nine Community World Outreach projects we’re going to do this year. We used to do one project at a time (as issues or disasters would occur), but parents have embraced this concept and wanted it planned out. If a disaster arises in between, we’ll help the affected community as well. But this way, we have a plan to serve the classroom motto.”

Earlier this year, the class collected school supplies for children in the Bahamas affected by Hurricane Dorian. This month, they’re collecting new or gently used children’s books for Rady’s Children’s Hospital Ronald McDonald House.

In November, the class will make sandwiches for homeless youth with Rotary International;

In December, they will sing holiday carols at Sunrise of La Jolla senior living facility;

In January, students will visit Feeding San Diego and complete a two-hour volunteer shift;

In February, they will participate in Dude Be Nice Week to encourage kindness at the school;

In March, they will decorate placemats and donate them to Meals on Wheels;

In April, they will raise money to help endangered animals; and

In May, there’s a cleanup planned for either the campus or the beach.

Enter the Rotary

On Oct. 14, Torrey Pines Rotary Club president Henri Migala presented the class with $500 to help them with these projects — whether that is to fund supply purchases or if a cause does not generate as much financial support as the class hoped.

“When our members learned about what Kristi was doing, we found it wonderfully inspirational,” Migala said.

“We connected to this concept of Community World Outreach because we are a local branch of a global organization, and the mission of Rotary International is ‘Service Above Self.’

“What this class is doing seems to embody what our essence is … by giving to the local community and the world. What the kids are embracing really felt like something we wanted to support.”

He added that when it came to voting on which organizations to grant, Nelson’s classroom was a “no-brainer, top-of-the-list project to support” and that “it would have been impossible to consider not supporting the classroom.” Other projects the Club voted to back include the Care-N-Share Toy Drive, through which members collect and donate toys to shelters, orphanages and hospitals in San Diego and Tijuana; San Diego-based International Relief Teams; and paying for two middle-school students to attend Rotary’s LEAD (Leadership, Ethics, Aspirations & Determination) Conference.

During a sit-down with the class after the check presentation, Migala talked to students about Rotary’s mission and how it parallels their own. When asked how being of service makes them feel, some students exclaimed “excited,” and one student named Molly said it makes her “heart proud.”

Teacher Nelson, who is also a director on the Pacific Beach Town Council, said this initiative is just “a part of who I am,” and that volunteering is important to her. “I hope by doing all these things, I inspire those around me to get out there and do one thing. It has a ripple effect.”

So far, so good. Nelson reports students who have moved on from her class still participate in drives — such as this month’s book drive — and that she’s heard from parents their students want to do more.

“Students take what they learn here and continue it at home,” she said. “As long as I can reach one student at a time, it will snowball. Parents have told me their children want to help in their communities or go to Earth Day events. They learn to do one little thing at a time, just like the starfish.”

‘The Boy and the Starfish’

(Poem derived from ‘The Star Thrower’ book by Loren Eiseley)

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said: “I made a difference for that one.”

How to get involved: Anyone interested in helping may call Bird Rock Elementary for monthly project details at (858) 488-0537. Currently seeking new members, the Torrey Pines Rotary Club meets at noon Wednesdays at Rock Bottom Brewery, 8980 La Jolla Village Drive.