Bret Harte thanks Montgomery Place for trip donation

Niki Turley (far left), teacher at Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St., and her 3rd and 4th grade class accept a check donation from Neva Hefner, vice president of the Residents Council at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Drive. The donation will help the kids take a trip to Springfield to visit the state capitol. – Spencer Bibbs


Bret Harte Elementary School 4th and 5th grade students visited the Residents Council at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Drive, Wednesday, May 24, to thank the seniors for a $500 donation that makes it possible for the students to take a trip to Springfield, Ill.

“This is the first time that we’re taking a trip like this, it started as a dream,” said Niki Turley, 4th and 5th grade teacher at Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St. “I was like ‚ÄòYou know what? Kids are supposed to learn about the state of Illinois in 4th grade wouldn’t it be great if we just went to the capitol?’ and the kids were like ‚ÄòYeah that would be really nice I’ve never been’ and I thought okay let’s do this.”

Gathering enough funds to escort the 23 students to the capital proved more challenging than the school had realized. When members of the Residents Council got word of these financial challenges they decided to donate funds they accumulated from their rummage sales to the class.

Resident Laurieann Chutis has organized the rummage sales for over three years and they serve as a way for residents to get rid of excess items when they move into the apartment-style retirement community, during spring-cleaning, etc.

“It’s a great way to exchange stuff and get rid of their treasures ‚Äì and these people have treasures,” Chutis said. “They have not only wonderful clothes but also books, and artifacts, and arts. We have this rummage sale in-house so that other residents can see what they have but more importantly for the [Montgomery Place] workers so the workers can look at the clothes and the art and the furniture and the knick-knacks.”

Close to $1,000 is raised at each of the two-to-three rummage sales hosted each year and any resident can suggest ideas of how the money should be used and submit their ideas to a committee the council created to decide where the funds go.

Residents Council member Mae Wygant suggested that the $500 received from the most recent rummage sale go toward the Bret Harte 4th and 5th grade class trip because of her love and appreciation for schools and teachers.

“My husband and I walked a lot for a couple of years everyday and we would walk by the school and we would say ‚ÄòWouldn’t it be nice to be involved with the children at that school?’ So this year when we had the chance to give ideas, that came to me first,” Wygant, a former art teacher said. “I just love children and I think the schools are so important, the teachers do not get enough money, and there is not enough money for supplies so if we can enhance [monetarily] that’s great. But I think it would be wonderful in time to also be somewhat involved individually or collectively as your principal and the vice principal and the teachers decide there is a need.”

Wygant called the school and asked about the children’s needs and Principal Intern Tomas Reyes informed her about the lack of funds for the 4th and 5th graders’ Springfield trip. She brought the suggestion before the appointed committee and once they decided it was a good idea, approval was needed from the 12 members of the council.

“Then we had to call every single person we could reach on the council and everyone wanted to do it,” Wygant said. “We got 100 percent [approval].”

The 23 students, along with their teachers, filed into Montgomery Place and introduced themselves to the senior residents during a reception that included cookies and other snacks. The students shared their excitement about their upcoming trip.

Neva Hefner, vice president of the Residents Council, presented the $500 check to the 4th and 5th graders from Bret Harte School while they in turn presented the seniors with a large handmade “Thank You” poster.

“On behalf of my scholars I can’t tell you how much this really means to us,” Turley said while holding back tears. “I was coming out of pocket for us to go on this trip, I got to the point where I thought we probably weren’t going to be able to make it. So this came at the perfect time.”

Muriel Rogers, Residents Council member and volunteer activities coordinator for Montgomery Place, also gave the students a tour of the seniors’ library, game room, chapel, art studio, and greenroom. The students quickly formed close bonds with the residents and even started planning a trip to return to Montgomery Place to speak with Holocaust survivors who live there.

The students were overjoyed by the generosity the seniors showed them.

“I think it was just kind and generous that they would give us their money so that we can go on the Springfield trip and learn about our history and just go to a different place we’ve never been to,” Bret Harte student Alexandria Guidry said.

“It was amazing how these seniors decided to donate their own money to us,” Bret Harte student Serigne Cisse said. “We’re just a school and they took time and their money to give to our trip.”