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More Than Just a High Five: New Project Aims to Affirm Teachers in a Tangible Way


Three retired couples got together on Zoom and decided to send $500 every month to an Adventist school teacher. Kim and Ann Johnson, Harry and Judy Sabnani, and Luis and Connie Badillo sent their kids to Adventist schools. They have served on school boards and several of their children have become teachers. They have seen firsthand the dedication of teachers who get plenty of criticism and very little praise. And they decided to do something about it.

You have created a ministry called Hi-5 4 Teachers to financially reward and honor teachers in Adventist schools, grades K–12. Can you tell us a little about who you are and explain how the program works?

We are three retired couples who have been friends since college days.

We believe that teaching is the most important endeavor in the world after parenting and that educators are greatly under-appreciated.

As a result, we decided to recognize and encourage one teacher each month in a tangible way by giving them a $500 gift. Half is for personal use and the other $250 is for their classroom or to help students with their tuition.

The process begins with us contacting a school principal, explaining who we are, and inviting them to recommend a teacher. The funds come from our wonderful donors.  

When did you start it? 

The idea for the ministry was born in June 2020 and progressed slowly because we were creating everything from scratch without any models to follow. 

Where did you all get the idea for this program? Did the idea go through several phases before it solidified into the Hi-5 4 Teachers that exists now?

Because of the isolation of COVID-19, we three couples decided to get together once a week through Zoom to laugh and talk.

One of us suggested doing a mission project together and we came up with the idea of Hi-5 4 Teachers. The most recent (and I’m sure not the last) update to this ministry was developed over many Zoom meetings as new ideas and glitches presented themselves. 

What did you need to do to get it off the ground? Have you formed an official non-profit organization?

Any ministry that is visualized needs commitment, time involvement, and perseverance. Hi-5 4 Teachers is no different. To think about a ministry is easy but to implement it is another story.

However, as we got together with our friends, we felt impressed to charge ahead and we are grateful that we did because the responses from the teachers who received the $500 gift have been very rewarding. We have not formed our own non-profit (as yet). We are currently an official ministry of the WholeLife Seventh-day Adventist Church in Orlando, Florida.

Can you tell us about some of those responses from recipients?

The responses have been very moving and gratifying.

A grade school teacher in Texas responded by writing, "It was truly a surprise to receive this amazing gift! Like for many, 2020 was a difficult year. As a result, I have several students who are struggling financially. The first $250 will be used to help students cover a part of their school bill. The second $250 will be used to buy other supplies that we need in the classroom. My students will be so excited to have new chair pockets, STEM materials, and more! Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus!” 

After receiving the $500, a Southern California academy teacher replied, “What a wonderful honor to be recommended as a teacher of significance. Your ministry is very needed, especially under the present circumstances. Your letter absolutely made my day!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

And there have been many more responses from teachers who were surprised and pleased to receive the gift.

How many teachers have you given $500 to so far? How many nominations have you received?

We gave $500 to our first nominee in September 2020, with one teacher a month since then. So far, we have awarded seven teachers from grades K–12 in six different states: Maine, Vermont, Florida, North Carolina, California, and Texas. We hope to help teachers in as many states as possible.

We have received ten teacher nominations with three very deserving teachers on a waiting list for more funding. 

How do you decide who gets the award?

There is a “Nominate A Teacher” tab and form on our website.  We only accept nominations from a supervisor, principal, peer, or parent of a student in the teacher’s class. Usually, we initiate the nomination by contacting principals, but we are also glad to receive them unsolicited from others. We recently received one from a conference education superintendent. We award the $500 on a first-come first-served basis.

How many donors have you found so far?

We currently have 40 donors. That number includes both one-time donors as well as recurring ones. One hundred percent of the donations go toward affirming teachers. Our leadership group pays for all administrative costs such as the website domain name, website hosting, Zoom subscription, supplies, etc. 

We do not handle any of the donations. They are all given through our website which is linked directly to the WholeLife Seventh-day Adventist Church's secure site. Their bookkeeper handles all of the finances. The church emails receipts for tax purposes. 

We are very grateful for all one-time donations. But we hope that people will consider giving on a recurring basis. Recurring donations allow us to plan with confidence and consistency. 

Our hope is to have 100 people each giving a recurring donation of $5 per month (or $60 per year) which will allow us to be sure we can fully fund the $500 award for one teacher each month. Until then, the Lord has provided one-time donations to make up the difference. 

After we reach the first 100 recurring donors, we will then work hard to get another 100. 

To let people know about this ministry, we have so far depended on emailing family and friends, maintaining our website, sending out a quarterly newsletter, and word of mouth. 

Our greatest need is for lots of people to take the initiative to not only donate but to also reach out to friends and relatives who will donate as well. The wider the circle, the more teachers we can honor. 

Has your group created something like this before? How does your background and experience help you to operate this program?   

This is a first for us, but we have all worked as pastors and church administrators our entire lives. We have been part of school boards, wrestling with school budgets, and we have seen firsthand the dedication of teachers who get plenty of criticism and very little praise. Also, four of our children or their spouses are teachers. 

How do you divide up the work among the six of you? 

We meet usually two times a month using Zoom. During that time, we make necessary decisions and choose our next teacher. Specifically, we assigned one couple to take minutes of meetings and finding recipients by contacting principles or school superintendents. Another couple is in charge of advertising and the newsletter we send out to our donors once a quarter. The third couple makes sure that the money gets to the chosen recipient and the website is kept up to date. 

Where do you all live?  

The Badillos and Johnsons live near each other in Central Florida. The Sabnanis live in Freeport, Maine, just north of Portland. 

Do you find that you talk to each other more frequently now during the pandemic than you might in normal times?  

Yes. The isolation and loneliness of COVID-19 provided the impetus to connect more often. Also, once we all started using Zoom in our personal lives it made getting together easier. We enjoyed our fellowship so much we decided to Zoom every two weeks. 

Where did you all meet each other?

We met at Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Massachusetts. The three guys were all taking the same classes as theology majors. We started hanging out together and became very close friends. The ladies entered the picture after each of us started dating and by our senior year we had all gotten engaged. After graduation, we married and went on to Seminary together at Andrews University. After getting our MDiv degrees, our paths diverged, but we kept in touch. We often planned vacations together over the years. As a result, our kids have all become great friends as well. For over 20 years, Harry and Kim worked in the Northern New England Conference office so our families connected on a regular basis. Later, both the Johnsons and Badillos happened to move to Florida and were able to connect more often. 

How do you envision Hi-5 4 Teachers in the future? How many teachers would you like to be rewarding? 

We would very much like to help many more teachers each month but that all depends on the willingness of people to donate. We believe it is best to have many people donating a little rather than a few people giving a lot. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a great time to let teachers know how much you appreciate their dedication in a tangible way by donating just the cost of an ice cream cone each month on a recurring basis. 

Do you know of any similar ministries for Adventist teachers?

There may be others, but we are not aware of them. 

What challenges have you run into so far? What has been more difficult than you thought about making this work?

It has actually been very challenging finding new donors. There are many people who applaud what we are doing, which we deeply appreciate. But we haven’t found an effective way to translate that affirmation into enough actual donations. We sincerely hope this interview will stir people all across the country to help. 

Any questions or suggestions can be emailed to:

Kim and Ann Johnson, Harry and Judy Sabnani, and Luis and Connie Badillo.

Main photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash. In-line photos courtesy of the interviewees.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.


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