Cover Story: Collecting votes collecting cash

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - What could your school do with an extra half-million dollars?

For most schools they don't have a prayer in these tight economic times but for a small religious elementary in south Charlotte it's like manna from heaven.  But they are going up against a giant of Biblical proportions.

This is an especially tough time for schools.. public and private.  Teacher layoffs, programs slashed and even talk of some schools closing.

What if you could vote your way to a half million dollars?  Sound impossible?  It's not.

"An hour ago there wasn't an empty seat in here."

Monday night in the middle of summer.  Kids in their teens and 20s on their computers e-mailing friends on Facebook.  It doesn't seem that unusual, but they're not socializing.  They're raising money for Charlotte Jewish Day School in south Charlotte.

"The bell rings that means somebody voted. They got a friend on Facebook to vote. It doesn't get any better than that," says Gale Osborne, development director at Charlotte Jewish Day School.

The department store chain Kohl's since July has been running a contest to see which school across the country can collect the most votes.

The top 20 schools in the 10-million dollar giveaway each receives 500-thousand dollars.  Voting is done through the social media website Facebook.

"100 more votes.. we're in 7th place."

Jewish Day is in the top 10 right now which why they had this vote-a-thon this week.  (They overwhelmed their wi-fi system so they had to spread out.)

If they can hold onto this lead they're guaranteed the money.  They're the only school in North Carolina that has a shot at winning.

"I think it's very important for a school to get lots of money in order to be able to accomplish more," says former student Levi Cohen.

They've gotten out their message through posters around town.  On cars and going door to door.

And while the city's Jewish community has embraced the effort the small religious K-through-5 elementary (student body 118) is going up against schools more than ten times their size in cities that dwarf Charlotte.  You understand the connection between David and Goliath.

Development director Gale Osborne calls it a stimulus package.  She says, "We have had to cut some programs over the past few years because of the economy. So it's going to help us reinstate that. It's going to help us buy technology which will again help the economy."

"Who have you reached out to tonight? I don't want to brag or anything but the list is pretty lengthy right here."

Since anyone younger than 13 is not allowed on Facebook the school is enlisting help from alumni and friends.  And hopes Charlotte will take them under her wing too.

"I think it's kinda surreal for some places as little as Charlotte to compete against huge cities like New York and L.A," says graduate Sophie Bergmann.

"It'll put us on the map. It'll put us on the map. Charlotte number 1."

The contest ends in three weeks (September 3, 2010).  And Jewish Day knows they can't sit on their laurels.

Since classes start up in many parts of the country bigger schools are getting organized and they're giving them a run for their money.

Just today Jewish Day dropped down to 11th place just a few hundred votes out of the top 10.. but they're still in the top 20 which means they get paid if they can keep logging votes.

It's been a community effort and particularly amazing they've gotten this many votes especially since school has not been in session.

If you want to help out look for "Web Extras" at the top right portion of our website.  A link will take you to Charlotte Jewish Day's Facebook website.

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