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Children at the Jungle Town daycare on Shallowford Road show the piggy banks they use to raise money for good causes. / Staff photo by Mark Kennedy.

Visitors to the Jungle Town day care on Shallowford Road are greeted with a posted printout of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.

It reads: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others."

Inside the Christian day care center, which is operated by husband and wife team Mark and Colleen Aitkenhead, the message is woven into the curriculum.

Every classroom has a shelf of piggy banks, and each one is labeled with a child's name. The children drop coins in the banks for targeted donations that often land around the world. The piggy-bank ministry is a way of teaching toddlers and pre-schoolers the virtue of gratefulness and the joys of giving, Jungle Town leaders say.

Often the children do chores at home to earn nickels, dimes and quarters. Other times, parents and grandparents simply donate jars or plastic bags full of spare change.

The Aitkenheads, who are from South Africa, operate two day care centers here, the Shallowford Road location and another site in Hixson, with just over 100 children combined.

Over time, the children have collected coins to build a church roof in Africa, to dig a well for a small town in India, to buy shoes for children from an orphanage and even to help a classmate with diabetes.

"We want them to learn appreciation for what they have," Colleen Aitkenhead said, "and [to] realize that there are these other kids who don't have as many blessings.

"It's an attitude of thankfulness, gratitude and appreciation that we are trying to foster in children."

Colleen Aitkenhead ticked off some of the highlights of the piggy-bank ministry in recent years:

* When a group of children from a Ugandan orphanage visited Chattanooga, the Aitkenheads noticed that their shoes were worn. They arranged to take the children to a local mall, where they were each fitted with black athletic shoes. Months later, when the children passed back through Chattanooga, the day cares provided another round of shoes for them to take home.

* When the parents of a student with diabetes expressed a need for a diabetes assist dog to help sniff out rapid drops in the child's blood sugar, Jungle Town kids stepped up with money to help with the purchase while the day care owners adjusted the family's day care fees to help with their cash flow.

* When one child's father joined a local police force, the children raised $500 in their piggy banks to help pay for a Kevlar bulletproof vest for the officer.

* In 2018, when Jungle Town managers learned that they could provide funds to dig a well for a village in western India, coins were raised to help provide fresh drinking water for about 500 people.

* Earlier this year the children raised $1,500 to help a missionary buy school supplies for children in Laos, a country in southeast Asia.

By reaching out to good causes around the world, the leaders of Jungle Town say they hope to teach children, at a young age, to think beyond the boundaries of their own town, state and nation.

"It helps the children to know there are different cultures and places," Colleen Aitkenhead said. " We are showing them that we are just a little part on the map. We want them to be aware of how blessed we are. We want them to be thankful."

Life Stories publishes on Mondays. To suggest a human interest story contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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