Pastor offers tokens of appreciation for teachers, staff

Nyla Heine,7, left, and her brother Owen, 11, center, of Woodstock, help Pastor Karen Caspersen stuff items into boxes for teachers in her Woodstock home. Caspersen started the program "Just Because" to show support for local teachers. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Little random acts of kindness have been appearing in the mailboxes of W.W. Robinson Elementary School faculty and staff since last November.

The project, titled “Just Because,” was started by Pastor Karen Caspersen as a way to thank the employees for their hard work throughout the busy school year.

“As a mother of two teachers and having a lot of friends who are teachers in this district, I’m well aware of how unappreciated and unsupported they are,” Caspersen said. “If we can’t make a financial change, I wanted to create a program that might boost their morale with a little surprise once a month.”

Started as a grass-roots movement, “Just Because” is a simple reminder of the community’s support and appreciation.

To date, Caspersen and her group of volunteers have gifted over 150 random acts of kindness to individuals at the elemenary school since  November. Gifts have included notes of appreciation, popcorn, lanyards, hand lotion, seasonal items and baked goods.

“It’s awfully nice for people to express their sincerity, even if they don’t know the person the gift is going to,” she said. “I thought it would be a good idea and well appreciated.”

Well appreciated is an understatement. Caspersen said teachers have been thanking her for the small, meaningful gestures tenfold.

“For some being appreciated is more than anyone will ever understand,” she said. “Just a little thank you once a month can brighten anyone’s day.”

According to Caspersen, Shenandoah County has a 15 percent turnover rate for teachers and staff.

“They make approximately $2,000 less a year than adjacent counties with similar demographics,” she said. “That $2,000 over a 30-year period adds up to $60,000 that teacher missed out on.”

Caspersen said she’s learned teachers leave Shenandoah County and other municipalities not only for monetary reasons, but for health care and benefits. They’re also leaving because they lack the support they need to be successful. Professional work days, community support and the constant workload are just a few examples.

“Many of the teachers, my sons included, work late during the week,” she said. “Some of them even have to work on the weekends, missing time with their own families.”

Caspersen said something needed to change.

Thus, her community-based project “Just Because” was formed to make a difference, big or small.

The program works by dividing the faculty and staff into groups of eight to 10 individuals. Organizations such as churches, businesses and organizations provide gifts each month to one or more employee or category of employees. Gifts are collected at various designated sites, delivered to the schools and then distributed.

Items Caspersen said she would like to see donations include school supplies, note cards, memo pads, book marks, spring flowers, tissue packs, stationery, flowers, handmade items and gift cards.

“It’s all about being creative,” she said. “Think big or think small. Just think about what you would like if you were in their shoes.”

Everyone who participates benefits, Caspersen added.

Caspersen is a Lutheran pastor who preaches around the community as a “supply preacher”– a preacher who goes to various Lutheran churches when needed. She’s been ordained for over 22 years and has a passion for helping those in need.

“Anyone can make a difference,” she said. “Just because.”

For more information or to donate, contact Pastor Karen Caspersen by email: pastormom@aol.com.