When Sally Sylvester told her learning pod of 10 students in Henrico County that people who lived in assisted living facilities couldn’t have visitors because of the coronavirus, they were heartbroken and stunned.
They also felt like they had the power to do something about it.
“We should do something to make them smile!” one of the kids exclaimed.
That something needed to be bright, fun and easy for small hands to assemble. “Butterflies 4 Smiles” was born.
In August, the children donated their first batch of butterflies — fashioned from clothespins and coffee filters — to Our Lady of Hope Health Center in Henrico.
The group of elementary school students, ranging from second to fifth grade, has gone to Sylvester’s house nearly every day since August to color the filters, put faces on clothespins, and attach the parts together to create the butterflies. They take the job seriously.
“It’s amazing. ... They’ll come over here for hours working,” Sylvester said.
What was once just a quick idea to make a few people smile has turned into a larger initiative with a website.
The kids have donated more than 5,000 butterflies to food banks, assisted living facilities and charities around the Richmond area, and butterflies have even wound up in Tennessee. Now they hope to make 5,000 more butterflies and take their project overseas.
The 10 students live on the same block and have always played together. It only made sense for them to form a virtual learning pod when school buildings closed down.
Amy Lawson has three children in the group. She said she was nervous about their socialization with virtual learning, but said she trusts Sylvester.
“She has just a special gift with kids,” Lawson said. “Sally does a great job engaging the kids and actually empowers them to think of their own ideas and to make it happen.”
With Sylvester’s help, the kids have big plans for “Butterflies 4 Smiles.”
Sylvester has told many of her friends about the project, and they’re even thinking of turning it into an official 501©(3) nonprofit organization, in hopes of keeping the kids going.
“We sent butterflies to some assisted living facilities in Tennessee. We’re working on a partnership in Hong Kong,” Sylvester said. “So we’re always learning geography when they’re looking at the map. ... There’s so many different skills that they’re learning.”
Ultimately, Lawson hopes her kids have learned valuable lessons about teamwork and giving back.
“I hope they’ve learned that there’s always good to be done,” she said. “Whether it’s big ideas or small ideas, everything can make a difference.”