Teacher’s turn of fortune will help pupils

Tope Elementary third-grade teacher Alice McCray hopes to start a program about community service after winning $10,000

Most people, upon being told they had just won $10,000, would start thinking cars, trips, trinkets or at least new carpeting.

But when Grand Junction school teacher Alice McCary got a phone call last week telling her that very thing, she “quickly felt pretty sure that I would give it all away.”

McCary, 41, a third-grade teacher at Tope Elementary School, entered a sweepstakes at Mesa Mall earlier this summer, and her name was picked from tens of thousands of entrants across the country.

“I was shocked and surprised when the mall called and told me I won,” McCary said. “But I started to think that, sure, it would be nice to have the money, but there are so many people and charities with big needs that I realized pretty quickly that I don’t really need this money.”

Much of McCary’s inspiration for giving the money away comes from her classroom teachings.

“We spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a caring community,” she said. “One of the driving forces behind giving the money away is that not every kid has the opportunity to participate in service learning. This gives them the chance to see an example of this and to be involved in ‘paying it forward.’”

McCary told her students Thursday morning she was the big winner.

“When I let them in on it,” she explained, “They were so excited. The first thing they asked was:
‘Are you going to take us to Bananas Fun Park?’ ”

Her third-graders had several ideas about how to give away the money. They suggested making signs telling people they could receive some of the money, or that they could give it away to people holding signs asking for money.

McCary has a more involved plan in place. She would like to establish a program that will challenge youth to think about ways to meet community needs and offer grants through an application process to eligible applicants. The grants would be approved by youth groups from schools, churches and community youth organizations such as 4-H Club, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. McCary said she has outlined four guiding principles for her program, all of which focus on educating and encouraging youth to become young philanthropists.

McCary is no stranger to working on behalf of others. She grew up involved with 4-H and focused on service activities. She volunteers as a coach with Girls on the Run, and before she started her teaching job she was a classroom volunteer for the PTA.

What did her family think about her big win?

“My husband just couldn’t believe it. My son is a freshman in college, and he just said, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ My ninth-grade daughter gave me a big hug and said, ‘You’re my new best friend!’ ”

McCary said the “pay it forward” concept is working already. She learned a few days ago that an anonymous donor has come forward and matched the $10,000. She has also set up an e-mail address, spread the .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), for people to send in their ideas for ways to spend the money or to suggest charities to receive some of the funds.

“People can also make additional donations if they want,” she said.

McCary said she is working out the logistics of setting up the fund through Western Colorado Community Foundation and hopes to have a final plan in place within the next few weeks.


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