Many follow as Cowart sisters step out and ‘Go Orange’

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This past Friday, seven Cranston schools "went orange" on a voluntary basis to combat childhood hunger. Students and staff were asked to donate $1 or bring in a non-perishable canned good and wear the color orange to school in support of Go Orange Day; a day set aside to help those, especially children, in the community who are going hungry and relying on services such as the Food Pantry at CCAP. Spearheading this campaign were the three Cowart sisters who are no strangers to volunteering or leading: Caroline, age 13; Elizabeth, age 11; and Alexandra, age 8.

After watching a television appeal to participate in "No Kid Hungry" and learning that Tuesday was National Go Orange Day, the Cowart sisters asked their principals at Western Hills and Glen Hills if they could run Go Orange days at their schools. When both principals said yes, Caroline contacted the superintendent and Mayor Allan Fung and asked for their support as well. They both responded favorably and the superintendent put it out to the other schools to participate if they wished to. The result: Go Orange raised more than $1,380 and collected hundreds of non-perishable food items that have been delivered to CCAP for its food pantry.

Everything came together in the matter of a week. The sisters reached out to others, used social media and personally made more than a dozen signs to post at area schools. When asked if they knew of any classmates who are hungry; they said they think they do because of lack of snacks and sad looks upon their faces.

“Coincidentally though, in the way that fate works, just the day before the television commercial, I sent Caroline a link to an essay contest sponsored by No Kid Hungry, for students ages 13 and up,” said Jennifer Cowart, their mother. “I hadn’t actually looked into the contest much, but I saw the age range and she fit right into it, so I sent it to her.”

She entered the writing competition.

Caroline Cowart, being the oldest of the three, is no stranger to the spotlight as she won the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge 2012 and went to Washington for the Kids State Dinner where she met the President and First Lady last summer. The younger of the three girls, Alexandra, won second place at the Sodexo Future Chef competition last March 2013 and Elizabeth started a school newspaper at Glen Hills last spring with a couple of classmates.

“I felt good organizing this effort,” said Caroline. “I loved how many of my friends helped out by making posters and helping to hang them up as well as the feedback I have received. I like to make a difference.”

All three girls are also active in the Girl Scouts of America as well as in their church, St. David’s on the Hill.

“Two summers ago we had the opportunity to hear Olivia Culpo speak at Bay View, a couple of weeks before we found out that Caroline won the D.C. trip,” said Jennifer Cowart. “She talked a lot about taking risks and not being afraid and only being successful by taking risks. That speech really affected them and their future successes, I think, stemmed from them not being afraid to take a risk.”

The morning of Go Orange, the girls, according to their mother, were afraid that no one would show up wearing orange, yet were greeted at each of their schools to a sea of orange and their efforts paid off.

Being younger, Alexandra and Elizabeth arranged Go Orange at Glen Hills Elementary. Caroline did the reaching out to the superintendent and mayor's office because that part of it was in conjunction with the essay contest.

“Over 16 million kids in America struggle with hunger,” said Jennifer Cowart. “That’s enough kids to fill over 200,000 school buses!”

Friday was chosen, as that day of the week is a “dress down for charity” day for teachers and employees in the city by tradition. The mayor’s office will be continuing this effort of Go Orange for the entire month to add to the needs in the local community.

“Two of these very determined students, Alexandra Cowart and Elizabeth Cowart, approached me with the suggestion that our school ‘Go Orange’ to support the No Kid Hungry Campaign. They didn’t stop with the idea. First, they hounded me until I prioritized the idea and approved it. Then, they created a half-dozen promotional posters to post around the school,” said Jay DeCristofaro, principal at Glen Hills Elementary School.

Participating schools were Western Hills Middle School, Glen Hills, Eden Park, Cranston High School West, Stadium Elementary and Hope Highlands Elementary School.

“Obviously, I'm so proud of them,” said their father, Don Cowart, former principal at Hope Highlands Elementary School who is now employed in the Coventry school system. “I'm proud of how compassionate and empathetic they are, and how often they think to put other people first before themselves. I'm proud of how they are not afraid to take a risk, even if they don't succeed. I am pleased that they see success in so many of the things they do because I think it gives them confidence to be leaders and take more risks in the future.”

“I was excited to do this,” said Elizabeth Cowart. “It felt good to do something good and you hear about others doing good things, so this was our chance to do something good also.”

Go Orange for No Kid Hungry is a national effort to raise awareness about the one in five kids who face hunger every day. Get your school, sports team, youth group, friends and family involved by planning to wear orange on the same day.

At the end of the month, the Cowart girls will visit CCAP to see just what an impact they have made to the agency and to the community.

“I truly don't believe that any of them realize the magnitude of what an accomplishment this was. I don't think they realized how much what they raised will help others, both the food and the money. I think that because they didn't drive around with me that Friday and see all the kids and teachers at all the schools and all the food collected, they truly don't know how big it was. For three young girls to do something so widespread and so big, I'm so proud of that,” said Jennifer Cowart.

“As educators, Jen [who is a former teacher] and I have been exposed to a variety of challenging situations in schools. We have seen the impact of disability, poverty, medical and domestic challenges on children of all ages. Now that our kids are a little older, we have more frequent and intense conversations around these topics at the dinner table,” said Don Cowart. “In the end we always remind the kids of how lucky they are. Over time they have developed compassion and empathy that go well beyond what we could imagine and we are thankful for that.”

Perhaps summing up the experience, Alexandra said, “I was nervous that morning going to school because I thought I might be the only one in orange and I wanted to make a difference. I was so happy to be greeted by a school bus that morning of friends and classmates dressed in orange with donations along with them. We can make a difference and we have; even at our age.”

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