The chalk screeched across the black board, the whole class cringed. Mrs. Grissom turned around and smiled sheepishly. “Is everyone awake now?” The contorted faces and hands, rubbing at wounded ears, confirmed that all the seventh graders were now wide awake.
Mrs. Grissom taught religion. The subject began right after lunch period. Her class’s full bellies usually generated sleepy pupils. The students had to be frequently prodded to wake up and pay attention. Mrs. Grissom often resorted to some tactics that weren’t always pleasant on the ears to enliven her students.
Moving in front of the large bulky desk, she tossed the white chalk into the air and caught it. “As I said, before you started falling asleep, Benjamin Franklin, he was a great innovator.”
“I need a Benjamin Franklin right now for my cell phone bill.” Jerry heckled. He flipped his shaggy black bangs away from his eyes. The hair returned to the position of slightly blocking his vision.
“Please, try raising your hand next time if you have a comment.” Jerry’s hand popped up in the air. Mrs. Grissom nodded, “Yes, Jerry, you would like to enlighten us on your thoughts about Benjamin Franklin.”
“What does Benjamin Franklin have to do with God?”
“Good question, Jerry, what is the point of this lesson.” Mrs. Grissom walked behind her desk. She pulled out her top desk drawer, a loud squeak issued as it opened. The class cringed again. She looked up and smiled, “Sorry that was by mistake.” Reaching inside of the drawer, she held up a copper penny. “A penny saved is a penny earned, that is a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin.”
“The penny is useless. It doesn’t buy anything.” Jerry spoke out loud what was on the minds of the rest of the students. Mrs. Grissom glared at him. Jerry smiled sheepishly and raised his hand. His teacher nodded at him. Jerry repeated what he had already blurted minutes before.
“That is what most people think that we are helpless and useless, too insignificant to make a change in the world. As Christians, we have the greatest power at our disposal: the love and grace of God. I want you to take this penny and make it grow. Class, you will begin with one penny. By the end of the week, I would like to see it worth more than one cent. I will use this jar on my desk for the penny bank.”
She grabbed the various pens and pencils and tossed the bunch into the still open top drawer. She held the penny above the mouth of the clear jar. The light from the bank of windows, running the length of the classroom, illuminated the penny’s copper shiny glow. “One more thing, you can only contribute pennies to this jar. Good luck,” She dropped the penny inside the jar. It rang out a clear sound and then silence as it rested on the bottom. She glanced at the clock and said her familiar exit to her students, “Go do good work in his name.”
The bell shrilled and the class immediately got up from their seats. As they filed outside into the hall, Jerry beckoned the majority of the students over to him.
Standing far enough from the open door, but still close to the classroom, he spoke in hushed tone. “This is dumbest assignment yet. Do people even have pennies anymore?”
Principal McAllen strolled down the hall. He noticed the group of seventh graders congregating by the lockers. He walked up to the group, “Do we have a problem here?” No one spoke, so he attempted another easier and hopefully more persuasive method. “How was religion class today?”
“We’re collecting pennies?” Jerry gulped
“Pennies, interesting,” Mr. McAllen dipped into his pant’s pocket. He pulled out a penny and placed it into Jerry’s dangling hand. “A contribution to your cause, now move a long.”
Jerry stared down at his hand and thought maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to find pennies after all. He looked up at the principal. “Thank you, Mr. McAllen.”
Days added up along with the pennies in the jar. One classmate, Annabelle, found ten cents worth of change in her basement sofa. Timothy went to his neighbor that always gave him a dollar for helping her with her dog, Rufus. Instead, of one crisp bill, he asked for the change in pennies. Timothy’s neighbor was so delighted she gave him ten dollars worth of pennies. Teachers donated the loose coins rattling in their wallets. Change, tarnished and often overlooked, was contributed slowly day by day. Other jars were added next to the overflowing first one.
On Friday’s class, Mrs. Grissom smiled at her seventh graders, who were poised and alert. All eyes were riveted to the five containers populating her desk. “Class I’m so proud of you. I counted the money last night. You raised $53.23 cents.” She started to clap, but stopped when Jerry raised his hand. “Yes, Jerry, you have a question.”
“If I may, I would like to say something from the whole class.”
Mrs. Grissom leaned back on her desk and folded her arms, “Alright.”
Jerry stood up and saw several of his classmates nod to him with approval. “When you gave us this assignment, we thought it was dumb,” Jerry rushed on before Mrs. Grissom could object. “We soon got what you were trying to say. If we look around us, the most insignificant thing that is normally passed by can really add up to something. Everywhere we turned there were pennies which we had never seen before. We may not always feel God, but he is there if we just look a little more closely and notice him.”
Mrs. Grissom eyes glistened. She resisted the urge to wipe them. Taking a deep breath, she stood up. She glanced around the room at her beaming students. “You said that very well. Class, use that feeling you found and go do good work in his name.”