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Leslie Burden, back left, Brewer Middle School special education teacher, hopes to use the grant money she received from the Knights of Columbus Father John B. Adair Council 7129 to build an apartment with a washer, dryer, kitchen and living area inside of school walls to teach her students life skills. The Knights of Columbus Father John B. Adair Council 7129 members Ray Nowowiecki, left, and Lee Van Voris, back right, awarded her the grant in front of her class.

Tootsie Rolls and voluntary donations can go a long way toward helping a community.

Leslie Burden, Brewer Middle School special education teacher, can now afford to begin the process of building an apartment with a washer, dryer, kitchen and living area inside of school walls to teach her students life skills — thanks to a “wonderful” grant from the Knights of Columbus.

During a presentation Thursday morning at Emerald High School, the Knights of Columbus Father John B. Adair Council 7129 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church awarded grants to 15 special education teachers who work in Greenwood County School District 50.

“They have blessed us for several years and without them a lot of things would not be possible,” Burden said.

Lee Van Voris, coordinator of the Knights of Columbus’ Columbus Hope Foundation, said the Catholic fraternities “main precept is about charity.”

Voris, Ray Nowowiecki and other members of the Knights of Columbus sold Tootsie Rolls in the fall and collected voluntary donations from Lakelands residents to help pay for the grants. After buying the Tootsie Rolls, the organization netted $10,100, of which $8,800 went to District 50. The remaining $1,300 was given to other schools.

“It’s the people who help us to help the kids, it’s wonderful,” Nowowiecki said. “Every penny we collected stayed in the schools for the kids. Faith and community, those are our tenets.”

The Knights of Columbus Father John B. Adair Council 7129 specifically collects funds for children in school systems who have learning disabilities, Voris said.

“When we look at the faces of the children and the teachers that were here today it’s obvious that it’s a great contribution,” said Debbie Bishop, director of special services for District 50.

Sample apartments, special writing instruments, flexible seating, a school store and other assistive devices are tools teachers will be able to provide with the Knight of Columbus’ grants, Bishop noted.

“Most of the grant requests were for things that could be used for years to come,” she said. “It’s not just a here and now, it’s really looking at involving and engaging our students now and in the future.”

The Knights of Columbus also awarded grants to Greenwood County School District 52 and Palmetto Christian Academy.

Contact reporter Jonathan Limehouse at 864-943-5644 or follow him on Twitter @jon_limehouse.