RACINE — SC Johnson wrapped up its Racine Wonders program on Tuesday by awarding a total of $100,000 to Racine-area schools and announcing the winners of its student essay contest.
The company kicked off the program in January, when it passed out 9,000 copies of the book “Wonder” to local students in grades 4-8.
About 1,000 essays on subjects related to the book — acts of kindness or superheroes of empathy — were submitted and judged by University of Wisconsin-Parkside students.
Amelia Flones, an eighth-grade student at St. John’s Lutheran School, 510 Kewaunee St., wrote one of the winning essays. The subject was Flones’ superhero friend.
In November, Flones and her family experienced a house fire.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “Everything was gone.”
Once Flones’ friend Maddysen Haddock realized her peer could use some help, she went to work fundraising and collected about $250 to help Flones and her family.
“She was my superhero,” Flones said.
Funds for the winners
The 10 essay winners, two from each grade level — one from a public school and one from a private school — attended the celebration event at Festival Hall on Tuesday, along with their classmates. Each winner received a $10,000 donation for his or her school and a $500 personal deposit ticket.
Racine Wonders was not only the latest of SC Johnson’s literacy programs, but also encouraged students to be kind and show empathy to their classmates. After students read “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio, about 8,000 of them attended screenings of the movie based on the book. Students also worked through curriculum related to the book, provided by myFace, a non-profit charitable organization based in New York City that helps children and adults with craniofacial differences, like the main character in “Wonder.”
Dina Zuckerberg, director of family programs at myFace, has a craniofacial difference herself.
She was born with a cleft lip, has hearing loss in both ears and a small left eye that provides her with no vision.
“It never stopped me from doing anything I ever wanted to do in my life,” Zuckerberg told the crowd on Tuesday. “I can drive, ski, ride a bicycle.”
She added that she was teased as a child and that she remembers those moments well, in addition to the times that someone went out of their way to be kind to her.
“It’s natural and normal to notice someone who looks different, but you have the power to choose to do so respectfully,” Zuckerberg said.
It’s the difference between asking “what’s wrong with your face?” and “May I ask you a question, may I ask you about your face?” she said.
Hannah Klein, 12, who was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, spoke to the group about the challenges of growing up with a facial difference. Klein has undergone more than 20 surgeries to help her deal with the condition that affects the tissue, muscles and bones in her face.
She said that myFace has connected herself and her family with people like she and her sister, who has a more mild form of the syndrome.
Klein said she wants the bullies of the world to know “that just because we look different, doesn’t mean we have different physical abilities and that we’re all the same.”
SC Johnson kicked off Tuesday’s event with performances by DJ Livia and the Monster Kids, a hip-hop dance group from Chicago that has been featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “America’s Got Talent” and the “Steve Harvey Show.” The group got the Racine students involved, bringing some on stage to learn the moves.
The dancers also shared a positive message about their success after previously being homeless.
Near the program’s end, Kelly Semrau, senior vice president of global corporate affairs, communications and sustainability for SC Johnson, and the person behind the creation of the Racine Wonders program, announced the names of the essay winners. The room erupted in gasps and cheers when it was announced that each of the 250 students in attendance would receive a Kindle Fire tablet computer.
Both Semrau and Jim Ladwig, director of global community affairs at SC Johnson, told the crowd how much the company cares about Racine.
“I will tell you as a company one of our mottoes is that it’s our job as SC Johnson to help make the communities that we’re in a better place because we’re there,” Ladwig said. “Everybody in attendance today can do the same thing. You can make a difference in your communities.”