Coleman Barnes was a typical high school student. Involved in deep friendships, focused on class work, participated in extracurriculars, preparing for the future after graduation. Coleman was not so typical in the fact that, at the young age of 18, he had already begun to leave a legacy of lasting impact: Coleman worked to make a way for five kids in Jamaica to attend school for the next five years.
Coleman traveled with Student Ministries from Christ Community’s Leawood Campus in partnership with Won by One for two summers to Harmons, Jamaica. While there, he fell in love with the people, the food, and the kids they served. As he spoke with local parents, they shared how inaccessible education was for them. They shared how they had to decide whether to send their kids to school or put food on the table.
Coleman could not imagine the cost of such a choice. Food or education? If families picked food on the table, their children’s futures were limited; if they chose education, their children might starve. It was a dangerous cycle of poverty that represented heartache.
One morning Coleman was talking with a Jamaican woman named Sandra. She teared up as she told him the news that her little daughter had been sponsored for school. She was overwhelmed with joy that her daughter would have an opportunity she never had: to receive an education so someday she could be able to provide for her family and break this poverty cycle. As Coleman saw how much school sponsorship meant to this family, he knew he wanted to get involved.
Coleman left Jamaica after that week of serving, but the desire to make a difference didn’t leave him. Challenged in one of his leadership classes at school to make an impact on behalf of others, Coleman immediately thought of Jamaica and the idea of educational scholarships. As a high school student, he did not have the money to sponsor a child, even at $40 a month. So he enlisted a couple of friends, Laken and Jack, to help begin dreaming of a way for students at Blue Valley West High School to collectively make a difference in the lives of kids in Jamaica. Heart for Hope was born with the idea to have each class at school raise money to sponsor a child in Jamaica and make it a friendly competition to raise $5,000.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack had a three-pronged approach to getting five Jamaican students sponsored for two years of school. First, English Language Arts classes at every grade level would introduce, by video, the students to the Jamaican child their class would be sponsoring. These videos would provide a face, a name, and a story to build connection and motivate that class to bring their loose change and dollars to sponsor their child. Second, they sold Heart for Hope T-shirts for $10 and encouraged everyone attending the basketball game that week to wear them and make a schoolwide statement of hope. They sold over 450 shirts. Third, they put together a silent auction of donated items at that basketball game.
Watch the video that Coleman and his friends put together for their fundraiser.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack were blown away as fellow students brought more than loose change to the donation jars. Students gave $10 and $20 bills and the money began adding up. The ambitious goal of $5,000 in two weeks to support five kids for two years of education was completely shattered! Coleman and his peers were able to raise $12,000 to help five kids— Rahein, Atalia, Aleana, Victor, and Sashante—for five years each through school, which genuinely changed their lives.
Coleman said, “We were truly blown away by the response we had for Heart for Hope, and it’s been so cool for me to see our school come together and get behind kids they don’t know and will never meet.”
Coleman has seen God on display in the hearts of fellow students who said: I want to make a difference, and I want to provide hope to these kids and make a tangible impact on their lives. For Coleman, it’s been unbelievable to see the incredible generosity of his peers and God’s faithfulness through this whole process.
“Heart for Hope,” written by Dawn Heckert, originally appeared as an article in Homefront magazine, June 2018 edition, pp. 38-39.