Iowa City West High School student supports students in Ukraine with ‘Project Encouragement’

Founded by Kaylie Milton, a sophomore at Iowa City West High School, Project Encouragement is meant to uplift the spirits of students from across the world with cards, bracelets, and stickers with messages of support.

Contributed.

Contributed.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter


Kaylie Milton, a current sophomore at Iowa City West High School, is no stranger to random acts of kindness. Milton learned from her father, Jeff Milton, through observation. 

While on a family vacation in Asia, the Milton family was walking by, and had somewhere to be quick. However, on their way, they ran into an elderly woman who was struggling to climb up a flight of stairs. Despite the rush, Jeff made the choice to stop and help her.

That brief moment resonated with Kaylie Milton. For her father, it was simply a reflexive choice to help that woman.

“You know, they tell you as parents, our kids are always listening and watching,” Jeff Milton said. “I didn’t even remember that.”

After seeing the suffering currently happening in Ukraine, Milton said she decided to exemplify her father’s kindness, and started her own project to uplift the spirits of students from across the world. 

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“My dad has this friend named Nataliya, and she lives in Ukraine,” Milton said. “With the war going on, she was talking about all her experiences and about how distraught the children are. I’d been listening to this and thinking, ‘well, what can I do?’. I thought a student-to-student outreach would be extremely beneficial.”

After going through the planning process with support from her counselor and Honors English teacher, Milton devised a course of action for what she calls “Project Encouragement.” 

Project Encouragement involves sending notes of encouragement to students in Ukraine as a sign of solidarity and support for those who are suffering. They also send over wristbands and stickers that read “just keep swimming,” a quote taken from the popular movie Finding Nemo

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“That’s the metaphor — Just keep trying. Don’t give up. We’re all here for you. We’re supporting you all the way from Iowa City,” Milton said. “That’s basically sending the message that ‘we truly want to help you.’”

For distribution purposes, Milton and her father decided to go straight to the source, and deliver the cards to their initial contact in Ukraine to further distribute.

Milton said that initially, she was worried that there would not be a great deal of support throughout her school with the project. As is the case with leading a task as large as this, participation from others is key to a project’s success, Milton said.

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These fears, however, were unfounded. Milton said that the support that she received was incredible, from the heartfelt world that students put into the cards to the help given by the teachers and faculty from Iowa City West High School. 

Milton said that Project Encouragement is meant to show support, all the way in Iowa City. With an empathetic heart that saw suffering and wanted to help in whatever way she could, Milton said she was able to organize an effort to extend support across the vast distance from Iowa to Ukraine. 

“The ultimate goal would just be to ensure the kids in Ukraine that there are so many supporters. There’s so much support coming from all over the world,” Milton said. “This is just my part of showing that just a small school of West High, we’re already supporting them. We are with them.”

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