AYERSVILLE — What can you get for a paper clip?

On Thursday, educators from Ayersville Local Schools found out the answer to that question during a professional development day exercise titled, The Paper Clip Challenge. Inspired by Sharon Elementary School, a school in the metro-Atlanta area that did its own Paper Clip Challenge a few weeks ago, administrators at Ayersville split the educators into groups and sent each group out into the community with a paper clip.

The groups were tasked with taking that paper clip to a business, the home of a friend or neighbor, or wherever, (with the exception of their own homes), trade it for something better, and then continue to “trade up” items along the way. The educators had an hour and a half (9:30-11 a.m.) to make their trades, and whatever they brought back to the school, would then be donated to a student or family in need, or the United Way of Defiance County.

“One of the goals was to put people into groups that don’t spend a lot of time together during the school day, so that they could collaborate and get to know each other better,” said Ayersville Middle School principal Kirk Jones. “This exercise goes hand-in-hand with our 7 Mindsets program, in which some of the objectives include, maximize relationships and focus your energy. That’s exactly what our educators did today.”

Said Ayersville High School principal Jeremy Kuhlman: “Kirk has been the one leading this charge, and we (the administrators) did talk about how this goes with our 7 Mindsets program. To be able to trade a paper clip, and end up with something for one of our parents, or our kids, or a community member in need is really tremendous. Some of the teachers didn’t want to leave this morning, but now that they’re back, they can’t stop smiling.”

“This morning in our staff meeting, we talked about how we have students with us only 14% of the year, and that’s if we don’t miss any days, have delays, the kids don’t have doctor appointments, or whatever,” said Ayersville Elementary School principal Beth Hench. “We talked about making an impact, and today our educators have seen in two hours, what an impact they can make, and how that effort helps people.”

What started out as a “trade up” for many of the groups, turned into businesses and individuals just making donations to help those in need.

Some of the items educators brought back included a $500 donation from Defiance Mayor Mike McCann; a $150 gift certificate for a wellness check donated by Okuley’s Pharmacy; a Spirit Pack featuring several items of clothing and a bookbag from Higbea Embroidery; a $100 Kohl’s gift card donated by Blake Sizemore of Edward Jones; a family eye examination from Brunswick Eye Center; and two one-year kid passes from the Defiance Area YMCA.

One of the groups featured Tamara Rau (third grade), Karen Maas (special education), Courtney Reiner (high school history) and Teri Nicely (aide). The group, through all its trades, eventually ended up with a rug from King’s Flooring and Furniture. Rau shared that the experience was inspiring in many ways.

“At first it was a nerve-racking experience, but throughout the whole process, it was neat to see people willing to give back to the community,” said Rau. “What was great about it was that what we were trading for wasn’t money, a lot of it was trading for something someone could use. It was liberating in a way, because in a time when we see so many negative things, there are good people out there who are willing to help others.”

Another group featured Katie Budke (high school English), Alexis Arts (K-12 media specialist), Amy Thieroff (second grade) and Nancy Miller (sixth-grade math). The quartet didn’t return with just one item, it came back with an oil change from Auto Servant; a $20 gift certificate to downtown Defiance from the Defiance Development and Visitors Bureau; a $25 gift certificate from Cosmos Restaurant; and a $25 gift certificate to Family Farm & Home.

“I was very timid about going out with a paper clip and asking for something better than that, and then asking for something better than the next thing, but I was completely surprised that people just gave us stuff,” said Miller. “It got to the point that nobody wanted to trade, just donate stuff to us.”

Said Budke: “I don’t know anyone in Defiance, so I thought it was going to be awkward, but the community was just so generous. It was easy.”

Said Thieroff: “When it was all done, we all realized just how much fun it was. We also know that what we brought back is going to help people.”

Added Arts: “When the businesses told us to keep what we were trying to trade and just gave us donations, it was amazing. All but one of the businesses we went to are in our school district, so we feel like those businesses are helping us help people in our district.”

After all the groups shared their trading adventures with each other back at the school, items that the groups didn’t know who to donate them to were gathered together and donated to the United Way of Defiance County. Jones shared that the United Way plans to auction off those items in the near future, and use the proceeds to buy a book for every student at Ayersville Local Schools.

Said Jones to the educators: “When we announced we were sending you out into the community with a paper clip, I could feel all the stares, with some of them feeling like bullets coming at me because we were sending many of you out of your comfort zone. Now look at each other, you’re all smiling.”

On the cover: In the photot at left, Ayersville educators, from left: Katie Budke, Alexis Arts, Amy Thieroff and Nancy Miller, hold up gift cards they accumulated during The Paper Clip Challenge that was part of the professional development day Thursday at Ayersville Local Schools. In the center photo, Ayersville educators, from left: Ashlea Gonzales (high school Spanish), Kelsey Wolfrum (kindergarten), Melissa Miles (Title I reading) and Kelly Zachrich (fifth grade), pose with Dr. Amy Brunswick of Brunswick Eye Center, and a certificate for a family eye exam. Brunswick made the donation as part of The Paper Clip Challenge carried out Thursday by Ayersville educators. In the right photo, Potts, poses with Okuley’s Pharmacy owner Kieu Okuley, and a $150 gift certificate for a wellness check. Okuley made the donation as part of The Paper Clip Challenge carried out Thursday by Ayersville educators. Photos by Tim McDonough and courtesy of Ayersville Local Schools

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