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 semester 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, 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, Isabella 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 will receive her master’s in teaching from Wingate at Commencement next week. “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.
Walle turns to any resource she can to keep teachers like Marshall from having to part with their hard-earned cash just to provide everyday items for their classroom. Chalk it Up to Love East receives donations from a variety of sources, such as Walle’s church and several University organizations, including the Student North Carolina Association of Educators chapter, Bulldogs Into Going Green and the English Advisory Board.
Walle has been impressed with the University’s service mission. She initially had her heart set on UNC Charlotte but then received an email about Wingate and decided to apply. She was pleasantly surprised by her scholarship award, so she visited campus. “When I came here it was like putting on a glove: perfect fit,” Walle says. “I went to a small high school, Central Academy (of Technology and Arts) in Monroe. There was like 800 people there total. It was that tight-knit community feeling, and I get that same vibe here.”
As the leader of a service endeavor such as Chalk it Up to Love, Walle is firmly in her element. 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.
And no wonder, considering that for the past five years her mother has run Heart for Monroe, which provides a variety of services throughout Union County. “I’ve watched how my mom has handled things for so long,” Walle says. “I figure if I’ve learned anything from her it’s how to multitask and juggle things. And I have a support system, because this is so not her first rodeo.”
Watching Walle in action, it doesn’t appear to be her first rodeo either. But like she says, once you start serving others, it’s hard to stop. Leading a volunteer effort is just the natural next step.
“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.”
December 4, 2019