CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. — A fifth grader at Cedar Springs Elementary is making a difference at school in more ways than one. This school year, Jaiden Thompson decided she wanted to volunteer in teacher Emily Strunk's class for students with autism.
It didn't take long for the 11-year-old to start going above and beyond to help the students.
"On Fridays I take them down to the bus, and I always play with them at recess, I sit with them at lunch," explained Jaiden. "I like playing with them, and I like to help them, sometimes they can get a little stressed out sometimes and they just need some help."
Jaiden enjoyed her time in the class so much, a few months ago she started thinking of ways to give back.
"I thought maybe I should do something, and I thought about it, and I wanted to donate items to her classroom for Miss Strunk to buy stuff for her classroom."
"She knows that a lot of teachers spend money out of their own pocket," said Jaiden's mother Miss Thompson. "And, she knows with special needs kids, their needs are more extreme than average kids."
With help from her parents, Jaiden decided to create her "pay it forward project" and post about it on Facebook. Missy said they agreed to match her initial goal of $100, but she was surprised by how quickly donations poured in.
"Within the first hour, she already met the $100 dollar goal," Missy told FOX 17 News. "In about a months time she ended up raising $725."
Jaiden took all the money and bought gift cards to give to Strunk, allowing her to buy whatever she sees fit.
"Books, sensory stuff, some of their personal needs, and basically anything else that she wanted," said Jaiden. "She had no clue about it. She was very shocked and she cried happy tears."
"I was like holy cow, this could go so far," said Strunk. "Being able to provide more games, paint and sensory needs and we do a coffee cart, buying some of the supplies for that is a great inclusive activity."
"Just for a child to come up with the idea, to like notice a need, and come up with a plan to respond to that need is pretty spectacular, especially for a fifth grader," added Strunk.
Jaiden said the good deed made her feel "very happy". She's already contemplating another "pay it forward project" to possibly benefit a local animal shelter.
As the FOX 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Thompson is receiving a $300 prize.