Cents of Pride: Good Will Starts Early

The Cents of Pride program allows elementary students to help each other through donations and stores at local schools.

Eight-year-old Epie Cardenas recently bought her mom a nice necklace for her birthday. This is rare for any 8-year-old, and even rarer considering that she earned the opportunity to buy the necklace through good behavior at her school, Weller Elementary. In fact, Cardenas bought the necklace at a store inside Weller itself. The Pride Store has a variety of items available, many of which Cardenas would have liked to have had, but she chose not to buy for herself. “I like to buy stuff for my family, because not everything is for me,” she says. “I just want to think about how I love my family.”

Stories like these excite, surprise and inspire Weller’s principal, Marilyn Monroe, and are what she hoped for when she had the idea for what would become the Cents of Pride program just two years ago. At Weller, 90 percent of the students are on free and reduced lunch. “It was just my dream to meet the basic needs of our kids,” explains Monroe.

The Cents of Pride program has done that and then some. The program is remarkable in its growth and its simplicity. The program connects a beneficiary school with a sponsor school. The beneficiary school is one with a high poverty rate, while the sponsor school is a school with a more affluent student population. Families in the sponsor school will donate gently used items, as well as new items to be placed for sale in the Pride Store within the beneficiary school. The items range from toiletries, to clothes, to video game consoles, and everything in between. The students then earn “Behavior Bucks” throughout the week, getting $5 a week for good behavior that they can use at the store on Fridays. Volunteers from the sponsor school run the store, and act as cashiers as well as shopping consultants.

Before Cents of Pride became the well-oiled machine it is today, Monroe brought the idea to Disney Elementary School principal, Dr. Lynne Miller, and a partnership was born, with Disney as the sponsor and Weller as the beneficiary. Shortly after the store inside Weller was created, Kim Acuff, a parent active with the Disney PTA, had a chance introduction to the store while visiting Weller. Acuff, who is both organized and passionate, has simply run with it. “My goal is long-term, but we have to start right here, right now,” says Acuff. The Musgrave Foundation, a local private foundation, which donates hundreds of thousands of dollars each year locally heard about the program, captured the vision and then added to it.  The Musgrave Foundation funds Acuff to serve as spokesperson, and fronts the start-up costs for new schools to start the program. “They want to start in Springfield and expand across Missouri,” explains Acuff.

From the first store in Weller with just a few tables of a few items, there are now Pride Stores in Bissett, Bowerman, Campbell, and soon in Robberson elementary schools. McBride, Wilson’s Creek, Wanda Gray, Sequiota, Pershing, Cherokee, Mann and Greenwood are all on board as sponsor schools. Each school has the freedom to make their program unique to their school, while keeping the kids-donating-for-kids foundation intact. “The whole thing is make it your own, make it work for you,” says Acuff.

The program has been so unique and effective that it was discovered by Parenting magazine, which named Acuff  to be Missouri’s representative to the Moms Congress on Education Conference in Washington D.C. last May.

Not only has the program grown in reach and scope, serving more than 6,200 families, it has grown the lessons that can be learned in a school day. “It’s evolved bigger than I thought because it’s teaching them lessons about choices, about saving their money, about buying for their family,” Monroe says. “A lot of times, they’ll have two things in their hands, something that they want like a softball, and an iron in the other hand, and they’ll pick the iron.” Acuff believes those lessons are learned because it’s not simply charity. “What makes us different than other community organizations is that these kids really do earn the privilege to shop,” Acuff says. “We’re not just trying to give them something. They’re learning and they’re earning.”

To Acuff, it wouldn’t seem quite right to only describe the students shopping at the store as the ones who benefit, she knows first-hand what it is like to be a volunteer in the store, even bringing her daughter when she was attending Disney. “It’s not just met the needs of the kids, the parents from Disney get a sense of joy from working in the store,” Acuff says. “They know the kids’ names now, what they’re looking for, and they are so committed. There are faces to what they’re giving to. They know they’re making a difference. This is so much more personable.”

Want to Help?

If you would like to be involved in the Musgrave Foundation’s Cents of Pride program, contact Kim Acuff at 417-886-9882 or  kacuff@yahoo.com.

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