FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Students from Ellsworth High School in Ellsworth, Wisconsin, and their social studies teacher, U.S. Army Reserve Soldier Lt. Col. Ryan Casper from the 7212th Medical Support Unit, Rochester, Minnesota, donated more than 1,050 backpacks full of school supplies to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for Afghan evacuees here through Operation Allies Welcome on Dec. 13, 2021.
Casper and his students organized the Ellsworth Hearts and Minds Fundraiser after learning Afghan evacuees would be coming to Fort McCoy, just two hours away from Ellsworth, Wisconsin, through Operation Allies Welcome.
“When the end of the war in Afghanistan occurred, and the refugees were heading this way, I was not aware of when or how many refugees were going to be at Fort McCoy, but that’s just two hours down the road,” explained Casper. “I was able to go to Fort McCoy and visit the base and see for myself first hand what’s going on at the base. I realized there was quite a need.”
The students raised over $13,000 between physical donations and their fundraiser on GoFundMe. After transaction fees, the students were able to purchase $11,593 worth of school supplies, including 1,056 backpacks with a pencil sharpener, construction paper, small personal dry erase board and markers, pencils, notebooks, pens and crayons.
“We went into it like, ‘Alright we’re going to do this fundraiser and hope that it gets support,’ luckily, we’ve had nothing but support and it's been great,” explained Brianna Maurer, a student at Ellsworth High School. “People are paying attention, and it's been a really good experience. It just goes to show how willing people are to help out when they know that it's going towards a good cause like this, and how they actually want to participate in these things.”
Donations started pouring in after the GoFundMe link was published in multiple news stories, bringing in donations from across the country.
“The donations we got from across the country were solely from media attention because we had two different news sources put our GoFundMe in their article,” explained Kyle Luchsinger, a student at Ellsworth High School. “Which was phenomenal because with the link we probably got $3,000 to $4,000, which was incredible. Those are people all over the country, not even from Wisconsin.”
While this type of fundraiser was a first for some of the students, raising money for school supplies isn’t a new mission for Casper. Throughout his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he helped fundraise for local schools as a way to give back to the communities.
“It goes back to 2004, this school helped collect school supplies while I was in Iraq,” explained Casper. “We were able to collect enough supplies for roughly 2,000 students at four different schools. The school district helped me do the same thing in 2008 and 2009 when I was in Afghanistan.”
Casper believes the fundraiser doesn’t just bring positive change to the Afghan evacuees here but also the students as they see how much of an impact they can create with just a few social media pages.
“My hope is that they take away if they have a passion for something they can affect positive change,” said Casper. “They can do so in a very impactful manner. They have access to the world basically with the internet and their ideas. So ultimately the message should be do good and help others. They see it for themselves now, the impact, the amount. We’re gonna bring supplies for over 1,000 Afghan guests, and these guys are from a town of less than 4,000. They’re from a small town in Wisconsin, a village, and they’re able to make a difference.”
For students, the fundraiser has made a lasting impression on their worldview as they start thinking about their future careers after they leave Ellsworth High School.
“I think for me personally it really cemented the fact that whatever career I want to go into, I want to be able to benefit people with the skills that I’ve learned,'' explained Ann Lundstrom, a student at Ellsworth High School. “It’s made me want to continue fundraising because I feel like it's just been a really cool experience.”