By Kate Quesada

Elementary students all over the country will celebrate Constitution Day on Friday, September 16 and thanks to SouthShore resident Jan Caruthers and the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, 2,559 fifth graders at 10 local schools now have their own copy of the document to keep.

Caruthers, a member of the Chamber’s Educational Partnership Committee and a retired Hillsborough County school teacher, works with Collier County resident Joseph Cofield on The Constitution Project Inc. aiding its mission to provide a copy of a booklet titled Law of the Land – The United States Constitution to every fifth grade student in the state of Florida.

The booklet, developed by Caruthers and Cofield, who is a 21-year veteran and 15-year educator, contains the Declaration of Independence, a study guide, famous patriotic quotes and a list of related websites in addition to the U.S. Constitution and can be purchased for only 85 cents a copy or $25 for a whole classroom. The students use the booklet at school and are then able to take them home to keep. To gain support for his mission, in 2015 Cofield visited each of Florida’s 67 counties and biked 21 miles and ran six miles to symbolize each of the 27 amendments.
According to Caruthers, Cofield is a James Maddison Fellow and knows more about the Constitution than most.

“Joe found out that Florida students have to know all about the constitution by the time they are in seventh grade, but that they don’t have the opportunity to take it home and really study it,” said Caruthers, who has known Cofield for many years. “With these booklets they can write notes and really process the information.”

Caruthers and Cofield worked together to develop the booklet and a website that makes it easy for people to donate, even to a specific school or classroom anywhere in Florida.

“When I realized how low cost the booklets could be, I knew there would be a lot of people out there who would want to help,” said Caruthers, who adds that it is also possible to donate booklets to a class in someone’s name or memory.

While thinking about how to promote the project, Caruthers decided to approach SouthShore Chamber Executive Director Melanie Morrison.

“Melanie is magic,” said Caruthers. “I knew she would be the right person to get the word out for us.”

Morrison announced the project at a chamber luncheon and raised more than $200 for it in less than an hour. By the end of the week-long campaign, chamber members had collected enough money to buy books for 87 full classes at more schools than she had originally planned.

“This project is one of the coolest things we have ever done,” said Morrison. “Our members are so giving. They always want to help and just want to know how, so when I heard about this project, I knew it would be a big success.”

Morrison explains that KidsRKids SouthShore was the biggest contributor with a donation of more than $500 and adds that none of the 26 donations was less than the $25 needed to provide copies for a whole classroom.

For more information on the project or to purchase a copy of the book for a Florida fifth grade student, visit www.constitutionproject.us. Cofield can also be reached at (239) 777-7768. To contact the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, call 645-1366.