Teens raise money for foundation encouraging inclusion

Becky Vargo • Jul 5, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Three Western Michigan Christian High School graduates used a senior class project to raise money for the Graceland Farms Foundation.

Garrett Kraker, Chad Mclean and Eric Logan Beeson met with the foundation’s founder and president, Jennifer Sunderlin, in May to find out about the nonprofit organization.

The teens collected empty cans and turned them in to raise enough money for the purchase of a book on inclusion for 20 local teachers. The book by Dr. Paula Kluth, “Don’t We Already Do Inclusion,” cost the organization $18 each.

They went door-to-door and also placed collection bins at their school. Altogether, they raised $328, Sunderlin said. A couple of local companies donated about $96 to help the boys in their effort.

“At Graceland Farms Foundation, we strive to help all teachers realize they can teach a child with all abilities,” Sunderlin said. “What we found the local schools needed the most was the tools and resources, but mostly be taught how to achieve inclusion for a student.”

Sunderlin noted that’s why the foundation started sending teachers to the National Down Syndrome Congress Conference. 

“This summer will be our second year sending teachers,” she said. “This summer, we will be sending five local teachers all on scholarship basis.”

The following teachers will head to California for the conference July 20-23: Kelly Draeger, Grand Haven Area Public Schools; Jessi Brewer, Griffin Elementary School; Megan Feenstra, Whitehall Middle School; Carol Gunderman, Caledonia Community School; and Whitney Piersma, director of education support services for Grand Haven Christian School, Muskegon Christian Schools and Western Michigan Christian High School.

Each teacher receives a $2,000 scholarship that pays for conference fees, flight, hotel and a food voucher, all while giving them continuing education credits.

The foundation’s next fundraiser, to provide more teachers with scholarships next summer, will be Oct. 15 at The Little Red Barn in Nunica.

“The nonprofit was set up to give to teachers, but the real target audience is our children who need to learn in a classroom filled with peers their own age,” Sunderlin said. “When a child reaches their full potential, they become an asset as an adult — different abilities or not.”

The parent of a Down syndrome child, Sunderlin attended the national conference four years ago in search of support and more ideas on possibilities for her daughter.

For more information on the Graceland Farms Foundation, go to www.gracelandfarmsfoundation.org.

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