VILONIA — Vilonia students don’t want people to forget about a project that they started in 2016 — or the purpose behind it.
A group of seventh-graders in 2016 kicked off One Cent, One Life, a project to collect 6 million pennies to represent Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The pennies started rolling in, and to date, more than 500,000 have been collected from all over the country. Although the pennies were initially kept at the schools in coffee cans and every possible container, they have since been deposited in a bank.
The pennies project was inspired by Vilonia teacher Linda Knapp’s Pre-Advanced Placement literacy class and a regular class. Knapp’s literacy classes studied the Holocaust each year and came up with a project to complement their studies. Knapp said she’s teaching a new class this year, literacy/social studies.
Grace Shannon, now a 10th-grader, came up with the idea to collect pennies when she was in the seventh grade.
“Everybody’s life has a value, and a penny has a value,” Shannon said when she suggested the project.
Shannon said last week that she and her former seventh-grade classmates aren’t as involved with the project as they were.
“We’ve all gone to the high school,” she said. “We haven’t forgotten about it, but we’re not as involved as we were at the time.”
She said that 1.5 million pennies is “more of an achievable goal.”
“Part of me is like, maybe [collecting 6 million pennies] can still happen in the years to follow.”
The project is still just as important, she said, “just because it was a big deal, and to make sure everyone doesn’t forget so something like [the Holocaust] doesn’t happen again.”
One year, students made a quilt and connected with a Holocaust survivor, Magda Brown, to whom they sent the quilt. Knapp said her goal is to teach the students tolerance and compassion.
The original plan was to display 1.5 million pennies at the school and send 4.5 million to the Jewish Foundation of Arkansas; then administrators suggested buying a memorial to represent the Holocaust victims instead of displaying the pennies.
Knapp said her classes are still accepting pennies, and the plan has been tweaked again.
“The kids were hoping to get to 6 million, but they will settle for 1.5 million to represent all the children who perished,” she said.
“Our hope is to take the pennies and present them to the veterans museum in Vilonia to create a Holocaust Remembrance Center, replete with a bench that has the children’s names on it, as well as other sponsors and a guest book to sign. We’ve also spoken about creating a walkway with stepping stones that have pennies embedded in them.”
Linda Hicks, founder and director of the Vilonia Museum of Veterans and Military History, said it’s a worthy goal.
“I think it’s a really good project that will fit in well with the museum and be a place where people can come and learn about the Holocaust, and it will be something [Vilonia students] can call attention to. This is just an added aspect of the history,” Hicks said.
“I love that idea because the veterans museum is to honor all veterans through the wars, and … [One Cent, One Life] adds to the value of the whole museum,” she said.
In Knapp’s new class, she will still include the penny project.
“I will be integrating a study of the [Japanese] internment camps here in Arkansas as a tie-in with the penny project this year,” she said.
Japanese-Americans were forced to live in relocation camps during World War II,
including in Rohwer and Jerome War relocation centers in Arkansas.
Knapp said her plan is to finish the pennies project “at the end of this year or perhaps next year” and take the pennies to the museum.
Donations for the One Cent, One Life project may be mailed to Linda Knapp, 49 Eagle St., Vilonia, AR 72013; or brought to the middle school.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.