When 10-year-old Gibby Heiser noticed all the discarded pencils in the halls of her Atlanta elementary school last year, she began to “rescue" them.
She sharpened the unwanted pencils and stored them in her locker, occasionally handing them out to friends in need, but soon there were more pencils than people to use them. That's when the Pencil Orphanage was born.
Pencil Orphanage collects and packages these pencils and redistributes them to children in developing countries. Since it was founded at Atlanta's Morningside Elementary School in 2014, thousands of pencils have been sent to schools in India, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa.
As her vision for the initiative grew, Gibby enlisted the help of her school’s principal, who allows her to make afternoon announcements to promote Pencil Orphanage. She also helped set up collection boxes in teachers’ classrooms so students could donate their own stray pencils.
Even the custodial staff has stepped in to help.
“The custodians are fully on board,” Gibby’s mother, Brooks Heiser, told The Southerner. “You can tell because one of them uses a Ziploc to collect them as they sweep up.”
Gibby, who’s now a fifth-grader, heads the 14-member Pencil Orphanage board, which meets to package pencils, as well as create posters and PowerPoint presentations to help start pencil collections at other schools.
Today, the Pencil Orphanage program is in four schools, but Gibby hopes it can expand outside of Georgia.
“I hope it moves to more schools and more people ask for pencil packs,” she said.
Gibby and her friends meet to package the pencils in an assembly line, and they collaborate with mission trips to get their pencil packs transported overseas. In fact, Pencil Orphanage owes all its success to one young girl’s dream and the kindness of volunteers.
“I remember when I had my first Pencil Orphanage board meeting,” Gibby told Atlanta INtown when the publication named her one of its “20 Under 20" honorees. “It was wonderful seeing my determined friends work so hard as they packaged pencils. They really are what made my vision possible. It feels good to know that we’re making a difference.”