Decked out in jeans and a gray “Wingate” hoodie, bulging backpack slung across her shoulder, Isabella Walle looks like just another Wingate University freshman. But put her in charge of a volunteer effort, and the 18-year-old commuter student transforms into a seasoned professional.
In her first year at Wingate, the Union County native is in charge of Chalk it Up to Love East, an offshoot of a successful teacher-supply charity that operates out of Monroe. Chalk it Up to Love provides teachers at less advantaged schools with notebooks, wet wipes, dry-erase markers, paper towels and just about anything else they might need for a classroom.
At more-affluent schools, such items are usually supplied by individual parents or by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization. That’s not so much the case at a quintet of Title I schools within a few minutes’ drive of the University: Wingate, Union and Marshville elementaries, East Union Middle and Forest Hills High. “It’s crazy to see the disparity between these schools,” Walle says.
The University’s new Collaborative for the Common Good is teaming up with the nonprofit Heart for Monroe on a couple of projects, including Chalk it Up to Love. Heart for Monroe is run by Isabella’s mother, Ginger Walle, and so when the CCG’s director, Dr. Catherine Wright, asked Isabella over the summer if she’d be interested in running a Chalk it Up branch in Wingate, the younger Walle was far from daunted. “It’s like the family business,” she says.
Walle jumped in with both feet. In September, Chalk it Up to Love East began operating out of a former Sunday School room at Wingate Baptist Church. Once a month, teachers go online and place an order for items they need for their classroom. A day after orders close, Walle recruits whomever she can find to help fill each order.
The first month, Walle and one other volunteer filled all the orders. By early November, Walle’s recruitment efforts had brought about two dozen Wingate students to the church. The turnout even surprised Walle. Half of them crammed into the CIUTL storage closet, going down their lists to make sure teachers got each item they’d requested. The rest of the volunteers kept busy in the hallway with inventory-related tasks. Within half an hour they’d nearly finished packing all the bags full of pencils, notebook paper, scissors, glue, markers and the like.
A week later, the stuffed bags were taken to the church fellowship hall, where they awaited pickup by teachers. While they were there, the teachers could also peruse tables full of books – ranging from picture books to the Twilight series – and other items that had been donated and were available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Aysha Marshall, an exceptional-children’s teacher at Wingate Elementary, was all smiles as she browsed the books on offer, a bag stuffed with puzzles, glue sticks, paper towels and dry-erase markers sitting at her feet. “I didn’t expect to get some books on the way out,” says Marshall, who got her bachelor’s degree at the University in 2017 and received her master’s in teaching from Wingate in December. “I just got the necessities, and books. My kids enjoy reading. Even if they’re just looking at the pictures, at least they can grasp what’s happening.”
Like many teachers, Marshall has had to dip into her own pocket over the years to pay for supplies, such as tissues and wipes. At Christmas, she says, she spends up to $200 to buy her students presents. “I do that just because I love what I do and I love my kids,” she says.
As the leader of a service endeavor such as Chalk it Up to Love, Walle is firmly in her element helping teachers such as Marshall keep their classrooms fully stocked. She is in charge of all aspects of the project: contacting donors, corralling volunteers, keeping accurate records. It might seem a bit much for a teenager, but she appears to thrive in that environment. As volunteers crowded the storage room in early November searching for glue sticks and college-ruled paper, Walle calmly answered question after question, managing a chaotic process without getting the least bit rattled.
It’s almost as if helping others puts her in a zen state. If nothing else, it’s a fulfilling pursuit.
“That’s one of the big things about serving: When you’re serving people, you’re changing their lives, but your life is being changed too,” she says. “It makes you so appreciative of the things that you have. And it’s so eye-opening. Once you go there, you’ve got to be careful, because you can’t come back from that. You just get infected.”