Sixth-grade language arts students at Park Street Intermediate School set a hefty fundraising goal for their Kids Connect project, and the effort proved it can collect.

At a celebration held June 1, the last day of school, Park Street literacy teacher Brooke Raines and gifted-student intervention specialist Jennie Joseph announced to the students that they had raised more than $4,000, well above the $3,500 goal they had set.

Kids Connect is giving a $1,000 check to each of four charities -- the Grove City Buddy Ball League, A Kid Again, Water for South Sudan and the Buckeye Clinic in South Sudan.

"We're so amazed at how much our students were able to raise," Joseph said. "When they set the goal of $3,500, we thought they might have set the bar a little too high."

There was an initial burst of fundraising after the Kids Connect project got underway in January, "then we hit a bit of a lull," Raines said.

"But the kids were so dedicated. They didn't give up. They were self-motivated to keep going," she said.

The project stemmed from a teen-activism unit in the sixth-grade literacy class.

Students read "A Long Walk to Water," a novel by Linda Sue Park that combines the true story of Salva Dut, a Lost Boy of Sudan, with the story of a fictional character, Nya, an 11-year-old village girl who walks eight hours a day to fetch water for her family.

Dut was separated from his family at age 11 in the mid-1980s in what is now South Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War. As a teenager, he led 1,500 youths who were displaced or orphaned, known as "Lost Boys," through the southern Sudan desert to a refugee camp in Kenya.

He immigrated to the United States in 1996 and founded Water for South Sudan, a nonprofit organization that drills water wells in south Sudan.

The Buckeye Clinic is a maternity and child health clinic in the Piol village in South Sudan.

The clinic was founded by Bol Aweng and Jok Dau, two Lost Boys who immigrated to Columbus.

The Kids Connect students chose the other two beneficiaries after forming small groups to research and make presentations to the entire class about potential additional charities to support, Joseph said.

"They researched and then voted on which causes they wanted to support," she said.

Buddy Ball is a baseball league for children with disabilities that has begun playing games in Grove City. League games are played on an accessible field at Windsor Park.

A Kid Again arranges activities and visits to special destinations for families of children with life-threatening illnesses.

The $1,000 donations to each group will make a difference, Joseph said.

That amount will:

* Bring fresh clean water every day to 100 people in a village through Water for South Sudan.

* Provide laboratory supplies for more than a year and a half at the Buckeye Clinic.

* Allow A Kid Again to send 100 youngsters to spend a day at Kings Island with their families.

* Help pay for a permanent structure at the Buddy Ball Dream Field to provide shade between the concession area and the backstop or lighting at the field to allow for night games.

"It's an amazing feeling to know you're helping make a difference in people's lives," said sixth-grader Livia Dimmerling.

"At the beginning of the project, we were pumped," sixth-grader Haley Baldwin said. "We were like, 'yeah, we can raise all this money' and we were ready to change the world. Then we hit a wall."

But all that did was to inspire her and her classmates to come up with new and more creative ways of raising money, Haley said.

Over the last five months, Kids Connect raised funds by holding a read-a-thon, selling candy, holding raffles, operating neighborhood lemonade stands, mowing and completing other chores for residents, and seeking donations from families and local businesses.

The turning points were two events held last month, sixth-grader Ryan Bowyer said.

"We played a game at the Buddy Ball field with some of the participants in the league, and to see the smiles on their faces, just being able to be out there playing a game we all take for granted, it really inspired us," Ryan said.

"It made us work even harder to reach our fundraising goal," he said.

A Bowls for Bol event held May 30 involved students painting bowls with their own creative designs and selling them for $5.

The Buddy Ball game and Bowls for Bol raised more than $1,000 combined, Joseph said.

"Without those events, we wouldn't have been able to make it to $4,000," Ryan said.

Sixth-grader Jimmy Xiau said being involved in the Kids Connect project has had a life-changing impact on him.

"I think going forward, I'm going to get and stay involved in causes that mean something to me," he said.