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Elementary school penny war helps Marine vet get service dog

June 4, 2014

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During the assembly, Musson Principal Victoria Righter presented a check to Marine Corps combat veteran Eric Calley for the pennies the students raised to help get him a new a service dog.

ROCHESTER — A penny can still go a long way. Just ask Marine Corps combat veteran Eric Calley.

Calley, of Lansing, has post-traumatic stress disorder and lost his service dog, Liberty, to cancer in January.

Penny by penny, over the last couple of weeks, the students at Musson Elementary School raised $4,500 to help the veteran obtain a replacement service dog by organizing a school-wide penny war.

“A penny war is basically where different classes bring in change — it can be pennies, some put dollars in there, some families were very generous and cut a check — basically collecting money and making it a contest. Then, a few times a week, we would just kind of update which classes were in the lead. It was a little bit of a competitive thing, from the little kindergartners to the big fifth-graders, for charity,” Musson Principal Victoria Righter said.

The school service project grew out of an initiative brainstormed by fourth-grader Clara Adsit — along with a group of three other fourth-grade girls in the school’s Green Team: Sophia Adams, Erin Casey and Isabela Dinverno — who decided to adopt an animal.

“Clara is always looking to do something positive to help others in need,” her teacher, Anne Glaeser, said in a statement.

From there, Musson’s Green Team Parent Teacher Association Chair Angie Seligman and Musson mom Jolanthe Bassett made connections to Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs — a Florida-based nonprofit that raises and trains service dogs for veterans recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder — which they thought would tie in well with this year’s school theme, “Be a Hero.”

The group of girls took gallon milk jugs, decorated them and made sure that all the classrooms had them for the penny war. Other students helped with the effort by publicizing the project through special announcements, making posters and, of course, raising money.

Seligman and Bassett remained involved in the project by counting coins, updating the totals after every collection and awarding small incentives throughout to keep classes motivated.

“Amazingly, over the course of a few weeks, they have raised quite a bit of money for charity,” Righter said. “They actually have raised $4,500 — a lot of change. … It impressed me because the kids were totally driving this.”

The money raised will help the Florida-based nonprofit recoup the nearly $25,000 it takes to raise and train one of its service dogs, which they say can help veterans manage their condition by performing tasks like waking a veteran from a nightmare or creating a buffer in public places, among many other things.

During the school’s “Musson Salutes a Hero” assembly May 29, Calley said he was “humbled” by the students’ generosity.

He is slated to receive his new service dog in the fall, after it completes its training, according to Righter.

“Our plans are, in the fall, once he gets his service dog, to have him come back so the kids can really see the powerful thing that they’ve done, that started with a few coins,” she added.

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