What started out as a reading assignment at Lutheran South Unity School ended up inspiring a student-led service project helping the homeless in Fort Wayne. It’s an example of how academics go hand-in-hand with character education and generosity at LSUS, impacting both the students and the broader community.After seventh graders read the book The Watsons Go to Birmingham (1963), they were inspired to make a difference in their community while promoting tolerance among people groups. The students studied resources supplied by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center and were encouraged to create class goals and brainstorm ways to assist those often devalued in the community. Their plan included crocheting portable mats from plastic yarn made from shopping bags to give to the homeless. Because the mats are made of plastic and easy to clean, they will be shared with those in need through the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission.Lutheran South Unity School serves an ethnically diverse group of students who are excited to give back to the local community.“We remind them, no matter how limited your resources, we can all help someone else,” says Maurice King, director of development. “You have the capacity to give of your time and talent.”Encouraged by their middle-school teacher, Mrs. Schwantz, the students organized a campaign to help the homeless. They started a letter-writing campaign, sending notes to local businesses requesting donated supplies such as crochet hooks, safety pins, scissors and plastic bags. Walmart donated gift cards. Volunteers taught students how to crochet plastic strips from shopping bags into 3x6 sleeping mats.“It started off as little project. Then Walmart called the second week of the project and decided to help,” Mrs. Schwantz said. “The project expanded and got bigger, involving more people. The goal was ten mats, but we’ll have fourteen completed.”The project continued to grow with hands-on learning. Sixth graders learned about economics by setting up and running simulations of cottage industries and factory production. LSUS students also taught older students from neighboring Bishop Luers High School how to make “plarn” (plastic-bag yarn) for their own service projects in Haiti.LSUS students partnered with organizations including the Franciscan Center and Bethlehem Food Bank by donating flattened grocery bags. Those agencies reciprocated by sending LSUS bags that had imperfections but were useful for the mat project.Beyond the impact the project will have on the homeless, it’s also teaching kids valuable lessons about working together and giving back to the community.“It did tremendous things for students on a personal level,” Schwantz added.That’s a lesson everyone can agree on.