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'Guardian angel' has made a big difference this year at North Trail Elementary

North Trail Elementary School has had a guardian angel this year, the kind that makes umbrellas and winter coats and student snacks appear as if by magic. The kind that offers teachers a holiday tree trimmed with gift cards as a sign of appreciation. The kind, that according to principal Steven Geis has made life at the school a whole lot better.

The angel arrived, as angels tend to do, out of the blue. One year ago, a person or group -- they wanted to remain anonymous -- sat down in Geis' office and said they wanted to help. They wanted to make a difference in students' lives, so they set up an email address. Teachers and staff members could send a message when they had a need, and the things they needed appeared in the school's office.

So, for example, a student shows up to school one day soaking wet and without an umbrella. A teacher sends an email, and an umbrella appears. Or, a paraprofessional notices a student going without lunch. Email sent. Money shows up in the student's account to cover the trimester.

In one case Geis called particularly heartwarming, a student had one parent lose a job and the other land in jail. With winter coming, what Geis estimated was $500 to $1,000 of winter clothing and other gear showed up.

Even small donations can make a difference. Third grade teacher Staci Hutmacher said little things like getting a North Trail sweatshirt or getting a book at the book fair can help a student feel like he or she belongs.

Seeing that impact has been "absolutely outstanding," Hutmacher said.

"We're here to teach them, but we're also here as teachers because we care about kids," she said. "Often our hands feel kind of tied when our students need something."

Family support worker Char Anderson has gotten a close look at the good the guardian angel program has done. Anderson, who works at the school through 360 Communities, has other resources to get help for students and their families. But those sources can't help everyone.

"Sometimes parents fall into categories where the general public feels like they don't deserve assistance," Anderson said. "The child shouldn't pay the price for that."

The guardian angel program has become a way to fill some of the gaps. Anderson has used it to pay for kids to use the snack cart that makes the rounds every day, or to get winter boots. One student got a new belt through the program.

Anderson has never had any request denied or even questioned.

"I can't think of one other place where you can have what you needed at your discretion," Anderson said. "It has been wonderful. It's a dream come true."

The guardian angel told Geis they planned to donate $5,000 to $10,000 over the course of the school year, and Geis estimates they exceeded that.

At holiday time, they brought in a tree decorated with $750 worth of gift cards to Subway, Barnes and Noble, Kwik Trip and more. It was a way to thank everyone for the work they had done. Geis said gestures like that have done a lot to help the "esprit de corps" in the building.

Geis has spoken nationally about the angel and the impact they have made. He would like to see similar efforts at other schools.

"It brings absolute tears of joy to my eyes. It brings tears of joy to teachers' eyes," he said. "It is so gratifying to me that there are people out there that are so generous that they care and love humanity and don't want to be recognized for it.

"It makes me speechless, the true love and compassion of others is alive and well, and we want to see more of it."

It appears he will, too. Geis said North Trail's guardian angel came back last week and committed to another year of giving.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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