Teacher a fundraising whiz

Ruth Campbell, Odessa American, Texas
·3 min read

Apr. 8—When it comes to fundraising for United Way, one of Ector County ISD's smallest campuses has proven mighty.

Travis Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Shelly Bille is a big reason why. ECISD campuses compete every year to see who can raise the most money for United Way.

"Even amidst COVID, she is still passionate to make sure that our students and our families and our neighborhoods had support in the organizations that the United Way supports, so we just found a way around it and we were still able to raise so much and surpass what we've raised before. It's because of her passion and her will that she still wanted to do this for our kids and families," Principal Amy Russell said.

Bille has been at Travis since 2009. Before that, she was in Midland for five years.

Her classroom is currently self-contained due to the pandemic.

She took over United Way from Julie Canty. When Canty left, Bille said she won the funding competition. But five out of the last six years, Bille said she has helped the campus come out on top.

"I felt like I had some big shoes to fill ...," Bille said.

She noted that she can see how funds raised for United Way agencies affect her students.

"That's what keeps me motivated to keep going every year is striving to raise the most money because, like Ms. Russell and I say, it means a lot to us for our families and our kids and our teachers to donate the most in the whole district when we have the least," Bille said.

Asked what the secret to her success is, Bille joked that it's jeans passes.

"I do a lot of advertising. We do a coin drive and the kids are amazing. These kids who have nothing they come in with their whole piggy bank and the prize is a pizza party," Bille said.

To help get the students interested, Bille introduces them to animal charities that she follows. The children make the connection between teamwork and helping others through this exercise.

Bille employs activities like Crazy Hair Day and Crazy Sock Day that students pay a small fee to participate in.

"The coin drive is big for the kids and the families, and for the teachers. I always have someone from United Way come speak to them because they have a really good message that they bring," Bille said.

She puts the forms in front of them and tells them that $10 for them is like $100 for those in need. Bille said she doesn't try to pressure them. But when the teachers see their colleagues who have been giving year after year chip in, they decide to follow suit.

Teachers get a certain amount deducted from their paycheck every month.

At least one of the teachers and Russell give generously and she has gotten businesses involved.

The school raised $5,103 this year. She said it's usually between $3,000 and $4,000.

"I was amazed that we still did so well without the massive coin drive that we do," Bille said.

She added that the fundraising teaches her compassion and she feels like she's giving back to the community.

"These kids are so rewarding to work with. I've worked with a school system before where there were higher income children and the parents really liked to helicopter ...," Bille said.

" ... But these kids, the parents are so glad you're getting involved with their children. They really pay attention when you call and say he's doing this and I'm really afraid he's going to be retained ... Sometimes you do something that makes you feel good and United Way is one of those things," she added.