When Elisabeth Milich, a second grade teacher in Arizona, saw her salary after her new promotion, she could not believe how incredibly low it was. She was fed up, and she decided to do something about it. When she posted her salary online, she never expected the response it received. And one stranger’s unexpected message would leave her in tears.
1. The Teacher is In
Elisabeth Milich was an Arizona teacher and one of the thousands of people who dedicate their lives to educating children every day. But her story ended up being unlike that of most other teacher. In March 2018, Elisabeth was 43-years-old and teaching second grade students at Phoenix’s Whispering Wind Academy.
The academy where Elisabeth worked was a Title 1 school, meaning that it received federal funds to help the low income students in attendance. And while Elisabeth did not know it at the time, a seemingly innocent Facebook post would lead to contact by a stranger who would end up changing not only the course of her career, but that of her life and the lives of her students.
2. A Colorful Classroom
Anyone who walked into Elisabeth’s second grade classroom would immediately notice how much effort she put into the space, her students and, overall, her job. She had always taken the time to go the extra mile in her brightly colored classroom.
Elisabeth took the time to make her classroom special, decorating it to be inviting and conducive to learning for her new students every year. And while the students would change throughout the years, the effort she put into her classroom did not. But taking the time and effort to go the extra mile came with a huge extra cost for Elisabeth and the rest of her family, and it was starting to take a toll.
3. Penny Pinching
The truth was that in Elisabeth’s technicolored classroom, basically anything with color came out of her own paycheck. She bought it all herself. All of the paints, notebooks, decorative boards, markers, snacks, everything was bought by Elisabeth from her own personal income. And the purchases were becoming an increasing burden.
“I’m at Walmart buying my own garbage can for my classroom, and I’m laughing as I’m pushing the cart because I’m like ‘Only a teacher would have a garbage can for their classroom that they’re buying out of their own pocket,'” she said. With no closet in her classroom, she even had to store her supplies in her own home. And she was not the only one feeling the pain.
4. Supplying Supplies
Unfortunately Elisabeth’s story was not a rare one in Arizona. The state was actually notorious for paying low teacher salaries. In fact, Arizona teachers make some of the lowest salaries in the United States, and collect about $10,000 less than teachers in other parts of the country.
If the low pay was not enough, many teachers were also buying their own school supplies for students. On average, teachers in Arizona spent an average of $500 of their own money on stocking their classrooms. And salaries were actually dropping each year. The conditions had become so terrible that Elisabeth was about to risk it all to do something she had never dreamed of.
5. Red For Ed
In April 2018, Elisabeth was so fed up with classroom funding conditions that she was about to walk out of her school in the middle of the day. And she was not alone. All together, 70,000 teachers from Arizona gathered at the state’s capitol building to protest what they considered to be unfair salaries.
The teachers demanded a 20% pay raise from government officials and asked for better overall funding for education. All 70,000 of the teachers wore red to support the so-called “Red for Ed” movement. The inspiring protest led to a ton of support both in the state and throughout the country. And all of that support would end up inspiring Elisabeth to take her bold actions a step further.
6. The Post Heard Round The World
Elisabeth was sick of trying to make ends meet at home and trying to balance where to spend her hard earned money. “It’s hard to make a decision to spend money on your home, your own kids or spend money on your school kids that desperately need help,” she said in an interview.
The truth was, Elisabeth was working all day and seeing little monetary pay off. She ended up coming up with her own money saving techniques. “I think it just kind of snapped for me like, ‘I make so little money, and yet I have to outfit my entire room,” she said. Something had to be done. Elisabeth wanted to show the world what she was dealing with, and when she did it would shock people across the entire country.
7. A Paystub Snub
After much thought, Elisabeth decided to make a statement by posting a picture of her pay stub to social media. So she uploaded a post to Facebook showing that she made just $35,621 a year after a $131 raise. “I’ve debated about posting this, but in the end want to show what a teaching salary really looks like in AZ,” she wrote in a caption to the post. “I actually laughed when I saw the old salary versus the new one.”
She continued, “I paid $80,000 for a college degree, then I paid several hundred more to transfer my certification to AZ. I buy every roll of tape I use, every single paper clip I use, every Sharpie I grade with, every snack I feed kids who don’t have them, every decorated bulletin board, the list could go on.” Then, Elisabeth revealed another shocking reality.
8. Teaching The World A Lesson
Her post went on to underline that she loved teaching, “but, the reality is without my husband’s income I could NEVER be an educator in this state! I’m sad for my single mom teacher friends working 3 jobs to make ends meet!”
“Something must be done, otherwise our poor children will be taught by unqualified, burned out, and just plain bad teachers!” she wrote. Then she added, “P.S. No one goes into teaching for money, by all means … but we do need to eat and have a home!” Elisabeth clicked post and waited to see what would happen. But she’d never expected what was to come.
9. Going Viral
Elisabeth’s post was met with such an astounding amount of attention that she almost couldn’t believe it. In just under 24 hours, over 1,000 people had shared her post on Facebook, and the number was only growing. Comments on her post started pouring in. People seemed to be absolutely shocked by how little Arizona teachers made, and were even more shocked by the demands of having to pay for their own supplies.
A few news outlets even picked up the story, both locally and nationally. Elisabeth watched in disbelief as her post became a viral sensation. Messages of support from strangers came in from across the country telling her to keep up the good work, or expressing outrage about her pay. But not all of the messages were so nice.
10. Deleting The Drama
While plenty of people sent supportive, kind messages to Elisabeth over Facebook, some naysayers took up issue with what the Arizona teacher had to say. And those people definitely made their opinions known. They began commenting on Elisabeth’s post, accusing her of complaining or being dishonest.
Elisabeth’s post was meant to build support around the teaching community, not invite criticism. As the comments started to pile up, Elisabeth ultimately decided to delete the post. With the post unpublished, she tried to move on with her life. She had almost completely forgotten about the whole ordeal, when an out-of-the-blue message about her since-deleted post would stoke new emotions.
11. Incoming Messages
For months, Elisabeth had been trying to move on with her life as she continued to teach her second grade students. With no real changes to teaching salaries in Arizona, Elisabeth was still unhappy about her pay and was still spending her own money on school supplies. As always, Elisabeth was trying to balance the lives of her students while balancing her own checkbook.
Her life seemed, for better or for worse, pretty much the same as it was before her viral Facebook post. But things were about to completely change. Across the country, a stranger was about to come into Elisabeth’s life, and his actions would end up leaving the teacher in tears.
12. Raising A Hand
Over 2,000 miles away, on the other side of the country, a stranger in New York was watching an old episode of on Real Time with Bill Maher that featured Elisabeth and her story. Seeing her account struck a chord with the stranger, giving him a crazy idea.
So who was this stranger behind the simple message? His name was Ben Adam, a freelance news producer and real estate business owner in New York City. And while the two were living very different lives, Ben found himself easily able to put himself in Elisabeth’s shoes. So he decided to reach out.
13. Giving Credit
“I have three kids; I’m a working person – I can’t imagine trying to live, buy supplies, and support my family on $35,000 a year,” Ben said. “I thought to myself, I’m sure with all of the people that have seen her story on TV, in the paper, on social media and YouTube, somebody has contacted her to say they want to help,” he recalled.
So the mystery man ended up reaching out to Elisabeth with a simple question: Has anybody offered to buy supplies for her classroom? While the message would catalyze the start of something that’d garner national attention, it was almost stopped dead in its track shortly after Ben sent initially sent it.
14. A School of Thought
Back in Arizona, Elisabeth was reminded of her previously viral post when she found a new message from Ben in her Facebook inbox. It had been months since she told her story, and suddenly this stranger asked her if anyone had offered to buy her school supplies. She had no idea what his intentions were, so she answered back a simple “no.”
When Ben first reached out, Elisabeth thought nothing of it, really. She assumed this man was maybe just curious, especially when she saw that this stranger was living clear across the country. But when he sent her yet another message in response, she was shocked and taken aback.
15. Above Average
Soon after Elisabeth wrote her curt response to Ben, he wrote back saying, “I would like to purchase any supplies that you need for your classroom.” The message seemed too good to be true, and Elisabeth did not react the way many people would have in that situation.
“I just thought that was so crazy and there has got to be a catch, because this man lives in New York!” she said. Elisabeth just could not believe that a stranger would do such a good deed for someone he didn’t know. She worried it might be a scam. She was convinced that there just had to be a catch to this strange story.
16. Back To Cool
Ben went on to ask Elisabeth what exactly she needed for her classroom. This cross-country stranger asked her to make a list of supplies and put the list onto Amazon. Making an Amazon list seemed harmless enough to Elisabeth, and at worst it now seemed this guy could just be wasting her time. So Elisabeth went along with it.
Elisabeth posted her wish list on Amazon and went about her day. Her list included some books, colored paper, paint, paintbrushes, crayons and markers. After a few weeks had passed, Elisabeth would finally find out just what Ben’s true intentions were. And it’d leave her speechless.
17. Learning By Heart
Elisabeth could not believe her eyes when everything she’d added to her wish list showed up in the mail. “I’m thinking, ‘This is crazy. This is a total stranger from New York,'” she said. The packages not only made a huge impact on Elisabeth’s budget, but it made an even bigger impact on the students she taught. And they definitely took notice of their new supplies.
“I think he is the nicest person ever,” one of her students told a reporter, “he is our hero here at Whispering Wind Academy.” Elisabeth said that the packages changed her life completely. She thought it was just a one time thing. But a one time thing quickly turned into something much more that neither of them expected.
18. Show and Tell
In December 2018, the semester at Whispering Wind Academy was coming to a close. Nonetheless, Elisabeth was already planning to go buy some more supplies for the upcoming new 2019 spring semester. It was then that Elisabeth’s new friend, Ben, came along, once again with another huge gift!
Right in the nic of time, Ben reached out to ask Elisabeth for another list of the supplies she’d needed for the upcoming semester. She made another list with books, snacks, paper, tape, and a few more supplies. Sure enough, Ben sent everything she’d asked for. But word started to spread to other teachers who were also spending their own money, while Elisabeth was getting supplies for free.
19. Doing Extra Credit
Ben incredibly continued to buy supplies for Elisabeth’s classroom for every semester thereafter, but he felt himself wanting to do more. He described the feeling of gifting supplies as contagious, and a few months later he found himself asking Elisabeth if any other teachers needed a little bit of help. She definitely knew a few.
The following semester, Ben started getting supplies for even more teachers at Whispering Wind Academy, five to be exact. Just like Elisabeth had, all the teachers put their wish lists on Amazon and a few weeks later, the packages would start arriving straight to their classrooms. As his operation grew, Ben had a genius idea. But could it be crazy enough to actually work in a meaningful way?
20. Don’t Cut Class Supplies
While Ben was helping six teachers in total, he knew that it was not even putting a dent into the problem as a whole. Teachers all over the country were struggling to make ends meet all the while contributing their own fund toward outfitting their classes. So he devised a plan to create a website called Classroom Giving to get others to give just like he had.
The website would take visitors to Amazon, where they could pick supplies to purchase from classroom wishlists. The supplies would then be sent straight to classrooms. Those on the website could spend as much or as little as they’d like, and every penny would count. He had high hopes, but the results of Classroom Giving were unfathomable.
What started with one Arizona teacher posting on Facebook, and one stranger who was willing to lend her some help, soon turned into a full blown online movement. Ben finally launched ClassroomGiving.org in 2019, and it has been impacting the lives of teachers and students ever since. “This is like a wedding registry meets Secret Santa, and there is no commitment,” Ben explained.
Within the first year, complete strangers fully paid for 37 teachers to stock their classrooms. And the number is only growing. Almost 300 teachers have posted their wishlists on the website from 31 states across the country. Those giving to teachers are usually thanked with the most adorable handmade thank you signs and cards from the students whose lives they have changed. But with all of that giving, Ben still thought it was not enough. He had yet another idea to give more back to teachers.
22. Everybody’s Business
Ben witnessed the positive impact that his new website, along with his own personal giving, had on the teaching community. For every one teacher he helped, there were countless students that reaped the benefits. So he thought to himself, what if there were not just private individuals giving to teachers?
Ben began to call around the local community in Arizona, nearby Elisabeth’s school, to see if businesses wanted to get involved either by pitching in money, lending supplies, or sponsoring a local classroom. This way, businesses could become more connected with the communities surrounding them. But even as he worked to expand, the once stranger from New York was still deeply connected to his teaching friend Elisabeth.
23. Getting Good Grades
While Ben and Elisabeth had formed this lasting, cross-country bond that had changed both of their lives, the two still had never met. In the future, Elisabeth says that she hopes that she will one day get to meet Ben face to face. And she knows exactly what she would do if she were given that opportunity.
“I would give him a hug,” Elisabeth told news reporters who have highlighted her heartwarming story. “I don’t know if he is a big hugger, but I would hug him and would just let him know what a difference he has made in my life and the lives of my students,” she said. But not so fast! Ben was not done with his giving spree just yet.
24. Hitting The Books
From the moment the incredible series of events led Ben and Elisabeth to each other, the two had changed each others lives. The entire ordeal had taken away much of Elisabeth’s financial stress and left her more able to focus on being the best teacher she could be, giving her more time to be more creative with her lessons.
The giving went far beyond classroom supplies and has actually changed the lives of hundreds of students. And if it seemed like Elisabeth’s teaching life had already changed enough, and that so many lives were already impacted, Ben was ready to show that his job was far from done.
25. Honor Roll
In the future, Ben hopes to take his classroom giving to the next level. Including the website, he is hoping to open up partnerships between schools and local businesses nationwide. With help from his new teaching friend, Elisabeth, he has been able to identify even more teachers across the country who need help.
Ben says that he has received requests from teachers in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and California for classroom supplies, and hopes to expand his altruistic initiative to those states, as well. it’s incredible to think how just one simple Facebook post could lead to life changing results for hundreds of teachers and thousands of students. Now, that is an amazing progress report!
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