Grassroots teacher appreciation project gains momentum

WOODSTOCK — In a mere six months, Pastor Karen Caspersen had no idea her self-started community project titled “Just Because” would become such a monumental success. To date, Caspersen and her group of volunteers have performed 1,000 random acts of kindness to individuals at six of the nine schools in Shenandoah County. But her project is just beginning.

“I still believe anyone can make a difference,” Caspersen said. “Just because.”

What officially took flight early this year has brought delight to so many. “Just Because” is a grassroots project that allows the public to show appreciation for teachers and support staff for all they do to provide valuable education and life lessons to students in Shenandoah County.

“Sometimes we forget how much they do for our children,” she said. “It’s nice to show appreciation where appreciation is due.”

Caspersen began this project as a mother of two teachers and friend to many when she began hearing how unappreciated and unsupported teachers are in their school districts. Her goal was to boost their morale once a month with a little random act of kindness.

“More than ever we need to support our teachers,” she said. “Just a little something, no matter how big or small, can brighten anyone’s day.”

Caspersen recalled her first delivery. Her emotions were a mixture of nervousness and excitement. She claims she didn’t know what to expect.

“Now when I walk through the doors of each school, they know why I’m there,” she said. “It puts a huge smile on my face and fills my heart with glee each and every time.”

Smiles, tears and hugs are just a few of the responses Caspersen said she received upon delivery.

“Small changes make a big impact,” she said.

When “Just Because” was launched in February, Caspersen said she wanted to give gifts that she knew would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Gifts included notes of appreciation, popcorn, seasonal items and even plants. While the appreciation was heard tenfold, Caspersen said she soon began learning how much money teachers put into their own classrooms and supplies for students.

“Teachers already make so little. So, the fact that they’re having to spend their salaries to provide the necessary items to teach is disheartening,” she said.

So, Caspersen put on her thinking cap and made a project change.

For the 2018-2019 school year, Caspersen has added a “Teacher’s Wishlist”— items she’s hoping to collect to help teachers help students. Items include note pads, tissues, highlighters and dry erase markers, something Caspersen said teachers go through at a remarkable rate.

“We’ll still be collecting gifts, but I wanted to lessen the burden for our teachers by providing tools they use daily.”

Caspersen said she will continue to collect everyday gifts, which include individual healthy snacks to replace unhealthy ones, sticky notes, travel items and key chains.

Perhaps the most notable change for Caspersen is her recent announcement of forming a nonprofit organization that allows all donations to become tax-deductible. Caspersen heads the new organization’s board of directors.

“People who work with people make up the “Just Because” board,” she said. “Somedays it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Her plan is to recruit corporate sponsorship, civic groups, preschools and scouting groups to help spread the word and lessen the financial burden.

Caspersen also noted that the “Just Because” project has begun spreading outside Shenandoah County. She said that was her goal all along.

To learn more about the “Just Because” movement, visit Caspersen at the Shenandoah County Fair, where she will have a booth collecting items and educating the community on her project.