By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It just didn’t sit right with Charley McGlinn.
At the end of last school year, St. Thomas More teacher Roberta Miller did what she always does. She asked her third graders students if they would be willing to give her their unused or gently used school supplies. She would take those supplies to the Sisters of St. Francis in Independence, where they would be sent to children in the Third World.
Miller told her students that some kids in developing nations have to go through an entire school year with just one pencil.
That wasn’t fair, Charley thought.
“I thought how ridiculous that was. We have so many pencils we can’t even keep track of all of them,” Charley said.
“I was thinking that pencils were made for everybody to have, not just us people in America, but all around,” he said.
It bothered him enough to tell his parents about it, and soon a family project was born.
Charley’s 10th birthday was coming up on June 26, about a month after school let out. Instead of video games, or whatever else a 10-year-old guy might want, Charley asked for just two things — pencils, or the money to buy more pencils.
But that was half the problem. Once he got them, where would he send them. That’s when he and his Dad hit the Internet.
“I knew we didn’t have to re-invent the wheel, that there had to be something out there like this,” his father, Michael McGlinn said.
“My Dad and I looked it up online for people who had done this before, and we found the Pencil Project,” Charley said.
“We e-mailed the director of it, Maria Vick. She told us to e-mail this person in Zambia, Africa,” he said.
Now he had the place. All he needed was the pencils. And a little publicity to alert the family and friends who would be attending his party about what was up.
The whole family got involved. Mother Beth made all the party preparations and sent out, according to Charley, “a ton of invitations to family and friends.”
Little sister Molly, 6, colored the poster. Little brother John, 8, provided moral support in his own way.
And then there was “Nanna B,” maternal grandmother Barbara Hamilton.
“When we were in Florida visiting Nanna B, we told her about this, and she said, ‘What’s the use of having a pencil if you can’t sharpen it?’ So she bought a ton of sharpeners,” Charley said.
He said they weren’t the big wall mounted sharpeners, of course, but the small, plastic ones that work just fine.
But what to call their project?
“He looked up at me without missing a beat, and said, ‘The Point of Pencils,’” proud papa Michael recalled.
The big day came. When it was over, counting the pencils they bought with the donated money, Charley collected exactly 1,019 of them, plus Nanna B’s “ton of sharpeners.”
“I felt really good, especially when I knew how many pencils we had,” Charley said. “My Mom found this really cool basket from Africa where we put them all. It was really heavy.”
Charley said he knows that he really didn’t have to do that, to sacrifice his 10th to help children he will never meet. But then again, he had to, he said. He’s Catholic.
Charley was named after his uncle, Msgr. Charles McGlinn, the longtime pastor of Cure of Ars Parish in Leawood, Kan. He also has caring for the poor and loving his neighbor taught to him every day at St. Thomas More School, and is no stranger to service projects, nor are any of his classmates.
“I could just imagine how much I would want for people to do that for me,” Charley said. “It all started in kindergarten and reading us the same things over and over again, all the Gospel stories, and about being a Catholic,” Charley said.
Charley’s family shipped off the pencils to a school in Zambia.
“You know how much it costs to ship 1,000 pencils to Zambia?” Michael asked. “$200.”
“Wow,” Charley said. “I didn’t know it cost that much.”
They soon received an e-mail from Mathias, director of the Rising Fountains Development Program in Lundazi, Zambia, telling Charley that he made “a huge difference in the lives of underserved children.”
Attached to the e-mail were photographs of scores of children, smiles beaming as they waved their brand-new pencils from their new friend, a half a world away.
“Best birthday ever,” Charley said.