Posted by Carl Gerhardt on Oct 31, 2017
On October 31, 2017, Cherrie Edwards spoke to the Magnolia Rotary Club about her new book called "Spark in the Park". Pictured above from left to right are Holly Knowles (Illustrator for Cherrie's book) and Cherrie Edwards.
Cherrie told everyone that her book is about the devastating forest fire that occurred just outside the city of Magnolia, Texas and how a group of eight, 8-10 year old students raised sufficient money to replace a children's park that had been completely destroyed by the wildfire that engulfed 1800 acreas of beautiful forest land and 78 private homes in the summer of 2011.
The students wanted very much to give the kids around the destroyed children's park hope that one day they would have a brand new park to play in. They did not know how to make it happen so they asked their teacher Cherrie Edwards what they needed to do to replace the children's park with new playground equipment and new trees and plants. Cherrie told them that they needed a plan. They also needed a name for their project. Because they wanted to create hope in children's minds, they decided to call it project HOPE which stood for Helping Others Play Everyday.
The students then met to determine what was needed and with the help of their teacher, they learned that only one of the pieces of playground equipment would cost $38,000. They were not sure how they would ever raise that much money but Cherrie told them to not give up hope. She then told them that they needed to find a 501C3 organization that would allow people to donate money for their project. After several failed attempts, they finally found the Magnolia Community Foundation would help them. This raised their spirits and they began the effort of asking for Donations. The local Lion's Club gave them their first $1,000 donation. The Magnolia Rotary Club then raised another $8,000 for their project. While at the Rotary Club, a local newspaper reporter asked to write a story about their project. They did not know it at the time, but that newspaper article caused a local TV reporter to get interested in their project and several days later, the team was interviewed on live TV. That broadcast started an avalanche of people willing to help the students achieve their goal. When they finally added up all the donated items and money, it came to a whopping $118,000! They now had enough money to rebuild the entire park! With the help of many local business and individual volunteers, they began the rebuilding effort. Two weeks later, the team held a special dedication day for the children in the neighborhoods around the park and they invited all the volunteers to share in the completed project! They renamed the park to "Hope Park" after their project name.
Cherrie Edwards told the students that they should share their story with other kids as a way of letting them know that even kids can accomplish great things. She also entered the project into the Community Problem Solving branch of the Future Problem Solvers International competition. As a result, their project won the Texas Grand Champion Award. As a result of that win, their project was then entered into the International competition at indiana State University. There they met students from all over the world who were also competing in the event with their projects. They were very surprised to learn that they were in the top three projects for the event. When they went to the event where the final winner was to be announced, they again were surprised that they had won first place and received the "Beyonder Award". The announcer stated that "This year's Beyonder Award goes to a very special group of students that rose like a Phoenix from the ashes of a devastating wildfire to bring hope back to their community by rebuilding a park that had been destroyed. Will the team 'Project Hope', please take the stage". Although they had won first place, the team felt that the best reward was seeing children playing in the park again!
A picture of the 8 students who began the project is included in Cherrie's book and can be seen below:
After her presentation, Cherrie told everyone that she would give an autographed copy of the book to the Rotary member who won the day's lottery. Carl Gerhardt won the lottery  and received the autographed book. A photo of Carl receiving the book is shown below. Rotary President Kelly McDonald is also shown in the photo helping to hold the book and and also a "Making A Difference Award" presented by the club to Carl Gerhardt for his work within the club.