PORT ORCHARD — Gloria Bass is about a tablespoon shy of being a half-pint, but the 7-year-old second-grader nonetheless cuts a wide swath along the hallways of Olalla Elementary School.
The little girl’s first name is called out at just about every corner of the school as she escorts a newspaper reporter to her classroom that’s taught by Lisa Wickens. It’s easy to understand why Gloria is such a favorite among teachers, staff and students: she has a charisma that exudes from her perpetual smile and self-assured personality.
So when Gloria told her mother and teacher of a daydream she had while riding her bus to school one morning, it was one that needed to be taken seriously. She mentioned to her mom, Krystel Wallin, that it would be a good idea to raise money so that kids stuck inside Mary Bridge Hospital in Tacoma over the Christmas holiday could have a way to keep themselves entertained.
Emptying a bucket found at home, Gloria said that collecting money from her classmates to buy art supplies would be a great way to raise the spirits of sick children dealing with extended stays in the hospital. Her mother, stepfather Ryan Wallin and teacher agreed that it would be a worthy goal to help them “have some fun rather than just staying on their hospital bed,” the second-grader said.
While Gloria said had seen Mary Bridge Hospital before, she didn’t know its background or purpose. But what she does remember is what it felt like to be in a hospital emergency room. Gloria remembers it well: “I was scared.”
But it took a little help from her teacher to organize the endeavor. “I have a friend who had raised funds for arts and crafts, so that gave Gloria the idea — and she took it and ran with it,” Wickens said.
First, the second-grader enlisted the help of the 18 students in her classroom. Then later, she visited many of the 19 classes in the K-5 school and pitched her plea for contributions from the other students. Gloria spoke persuasively of the uncertainty and fear that many children deal with while they have an extended stay in the hospital for serious illnesses and diseases.
And as usual, Gloria charmed her way into the hearts of her fellow students, Wickens said.
“The thing about Gloria is that she has such a big heart and is so enthusiastic,” she said. “I heard from some of the older kids about when she went into their classroom, and one of the fifth-graders said, ‘She walked into the room and all eyes were on Gloria. And she was just so cute.’”
The little girl gently pushed back: “Well, I try not to be cute.” But apparently, to no avail.
Wickens laughed and said, “She’s just a little girl trying to make a difference. For the other kids to see, that is special. I always tell the students we can’t change the world, but we can change our little corner of the world, and she is an example of that.
“It’s one person making a difference.”
All told, through Gloria’s fundraising efforts, more than $1,000 was raised to purchase arts and crafts supplies. Some also came from Al’s Market in Olalla, where a barrel was placed inside the store for customer contributions.
Wickens and Gloria’s mother made a trip to purchase art supplies with the money raised, with the second-grader in tow. For Gloria, seeing her fundraising efforts being transformed into buying power was transformative.
“It was really exciting,” she said. “We got about 100 things and we still had $5 left over.”
The results from their purchases and donations are visible just outside the girl’s classroom. Wickens said that 14 plastic bins and five boxes full of supplies were purchased and stacked on a cart ready for delivery. She expects the items will be taken to Mary Bridge sometime in the week.
While Gloria has a well-deserved reputation at school for the friendliness and enthusiasm she brings to the building, the blonde girl is passing along her sharing nature to siblings Russ, 10, and sisters Maddie, 2, and 3-month-old Emmy.
“We talk about community service and how important it is to give back,” Wickens said of her classroom discussions. “I think Gloria is a shining example to all of our students of what one young person can do.”
Meanwhile, with the art supplies now within reach of those children at Mary Bridge, Gloria is not about to rest on her laurels. She’s already making plans for another fundraiser. Perhaps it will be to buy reading books that could be enjoyed by students who don’t have access to them.
That would be appropriate since she is a voracious reader herself. It’s her favorite school subject, and her teacher confirms that notion.
“Gloria is a phenomenal reader who tests on the fifth-grade level,” Wickens said.
So while the young community organizer is justifiably receiving accolades for her efforts, she is quick to deflate the praise: “Everybody here at school helped out.”
That’s a positive that everyone in Olalla can cheer about, her teacher said.