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The Pencil Project

James Ryan Orr

Copyright © 2017 James Ryan Orr

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1979765235

ISBN-13: 978-1979765237 

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This book is dedicated to the compassionate, the courageous,
and for those who dare to place their heart at the finish line.

Also, to all the students I’ve been blessed to work with,
thank you for making me a better person.

Instructions on how to change the world

Find a need

Work at it

Whammo, world changed




The Assignment

Colleen, the Giggling Girl

Real Superheroes

The Far Reaches

A Voice

Pencils and Presentations

The Girl in the Village

The Card with Stars on It

Extra Portion of Light

To America

What God Orchestrates

The Tears between Stars

The Accident

Standing in the Sacred Places


Author’s Note

Afterword By Sylvester Renner


Have you ever wondered what happens to the good deeds you do? Some people have the good fortune of seeing the immediate impact of the good they did, but for most of us, we never find out if that small action we took had any positive impact on someone’s life.

What if I told you that when you take one tiny step to help someone, you are actually doing something that is real, real and big, real and big and world changing? That is exactly what a group of Fourth graders discovered.

A simple class project, ‘Change the World’ and this group of amazing kids took the challenge with amazing consequences. In The Pencil Project, we see how one selfless act changes the lives of others in another continent across the world.

This story draws you into a classroom somewhere in the US and you get to meet everyday children and their amazing teacher. We see as these little hearts expand to think beyond the surface and search out deeper meaning in life. Then you travel with a pack of supplies halfway around the world to a village somewhere in Africa, to another classroom and yet another amazing teacher.

We get to meet the remarkable Colleen, a girl who shone brighter than the brightest crayon. The Pencil Project (which this book is named after), was Colleen’s way of changing the world. She began a pencil drive that took on a life of its own. This book chronicles the journey which the pencils took all the way to Africa, and focuses on the ones that ended up in the hands of Nadege, a girl living in the heart of the Cameroon forest; one without access to supplies.

The pencils make such a huge difference in Nadege’s life and she is able to go on to become one of the brightest stars of her time. But the story doesn’t just end there. The amazing class project, inspired by Mr. Kent, carried out by Colleen and chronicled by Michael, another classmate who was also part of the project, comes around to touch the lives of the very people who made a decision to do something real, and it happens in a way they could never have imagined.

There are so many lessons to learn from this story, and the one that stands out the most is the truth that good deeds are like ripples; their effect is felt way beyond what we could possibly imagine.

‘The Pencil Project’ will make you pause and think, stir up your emotions and we hope, stir up in you the desire to do something real and world changing. No matter the effect it has, you will find it quite hard to put down till you’ve read the last page.

We invite you to turn the pages and discover a world, similar to ours, but different in so many ways. A world where doing something that is real, real and big, real and big and world changing is as simple as finding a need, no matter how little, and doing something about it.


My name is Michael and the story I’m about to share with you is real, real and big, real and big and world changing. Being a writer, I’ve been part of many stories over the years, but this one has a special place in my heart. I think out of all the things I have seen and been a part of, what I am about to tell you is the most miraculous. Although now I’m an adult, I still remember it all like it was yesterday, the magic of being 10 years old. Sometimes I can close my eyes and I’m there again, Mr. Kent’s 4th grade class at Woodland Elementary School. I have often wondered why I remember so much of it. From where the pencil sharpener was kept on the back bookcase near the window with the pine trees outside, to the poster of Mr. Kent’s dream car (1970 Chevy Camaro, silver with racing stripes) that he kept on the wall near his desk, it’s all in there, in my mind I can still walk around the room. I think it’s because it’s the year I found something in myself that I was supposed to keep. It’s the year where I saw special things happen in my life and the lives of my classmates. It’s the year when I realized what I could do, what anyone could do, with just a notion to do some good in this world.

We were a unique group of kids that were led by a unique kind of teacher. Finding out near the end of summer break that you landed Mr. Kent as your teacher was pretty much, around the Woodland area, the childhood equivalent to winning the lottery. His reputation around school was that he kept a beautiful balance in his class of learning and fun. He openly talked about video games, science-fiction movies, and trading cards with his students but also mixed in a “deeper than that” philosophy where each day was a challenge to grow a little more as a student and more importantly, as a person. As I found out, he had a way of talking that made you want to do good even when doing good was tough, almost like he was talking to a part of you that was buried, almost like he was waking you up. He had a way of bringing you into his mind, into his world, which was very much optimistic and hopeful, a place where powerful things were born. Also, he brought you into his world without crushing your world, something I think most kids appreciate in a teacher. When I think back to my time in his class, the lessons were a perfect mixture of sermon and magic show, he really seemed to be half preacher and half magician, always reaching into the hat and pulling the best out of you, even on bad days. I think GOD put that man on the planet to teach, but even more so to get kids to believe in what a life could be, what any life, no matter how rough the start, could be. I still remember him saying, “Some of the most beautiful flowers grow from the dirtiest dirt”, that stuck with me because my life was pretty much dirt, dirty dirt, back when I was ten years old. It’s amazing how much a good year of school can do for you and how much you keep, to this day I still remember our class motto, “We don’t make excuses, we make solutions”. It’s crazy how many times I’ve heard that line in my thoughts over the years, especially when I tried to take shortcuts or give up on something.

By the end of our first week together as a class we all believed we were born to become the best men and women the world had ever made. I think that was the beauty of being in his class, even after you left that room his voice stayed with you. We all wanted to live up to that echoing standard, to make that voice proud. Mr. Kent had that effect on people and when a guy like him assigned a project you felt the need to do it and do it right. I’m not sure he knew how powerful the project would be and how far it would reach, but then again maybe he did, he was after all half preacher and half magician.

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