By Kelly Werthmann

LONGMONT, Colo. (CBS4)– Childhood education is more than just learning facts and taking tests. Many schools around Colorado have also been incorporating “kindness projects” into their curriculum.

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“You have to do something kind,” Payton Shaffer, a 3rd grader from Thornton, explained. “You can, like, make cookies for your neighbors or write thank you letters.”

CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann interviews Payton Shaffer (credit: CBS)

When Payton’s teacher assigned such a project, Payton knew exactly what she wanted to do.

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“I love horses,” she told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “I know how special they are to people and stuff, so we set up a stand and we made hot chocolate, and we got carrots for the horses.”

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At the local stable where she takes riding lessons, Payton sold treats to raise money for horses in need.

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“It was actually a huge blizzard when it happened,” she said with a laugh. “When I was in my lesson, my brother stood out there for two hours.”

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With her brother’s help, Payton raised $100 and asked her mom to help write a check to send the money to Colorado Horse Rescue in Longmont.

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“I wrote a letter to tell how I made it happen,” Payton explained, adding she thought the money would go towards food or supplies.

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“Maybe like tools for the horses or saddles,” she said.

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Yet, her kindness went far beyond what she imagined.

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“Days are hard here sometimes,” Shawna English, CHR’s Director of Development, said, ”so when you get a letter like we got from Payton, it was so heartfelt.”

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Payton’s letter and donation was an unexpected and heartwarming surprise to staff at the non-profit, especially since Payton had never been to CHR before.

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“I was quickly sharing it around the office,” Shawna said with a smile.

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Shawna answered Payton’s letter with an invite for her family to come visit the organization’s property and learn about the horses they rescue.

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“This is Eros,” Shawna said, showing Payton, her brother and mom, around the 50-acre ranch. “He wasn’t being fed enough, so he was hundreds of pounds underweight. He’s gaining hundreds back now since we saved him and brought him here.”

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Payton had a pretty good idea her donation would help horses like Eros and the more than 50 others at CHR, but she didn’t realize her gift was also life-saving.

CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann interviews Payton Shaffer (credit: CBS)

“Wait, I helped these two?” she asked Shawna, pointing to Eros and another horse named Scrappy.

“You did,” Shawna replied smiling. “You absolutely did.”

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Little did Payton know that the money she raised went straight to CHR’s auction fund.

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“Payton’s gift allows us to literally save a life,” Shawna explained. “We are able to go to live stock auctions, a local livestock auction, and bid on a horse that would otherwise go to slaughter. We bid against other horse traders that are sending them to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.”

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That came as a shock to Payton; she didn’t know horses were sold to meat buyers in Colorado. She said it gave her kindness project an even greater purpose.

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“I want to make sure they live,” Payton said of the horses.

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Donations of all sizes are critical to animal organizations like CHR, and Payton said she plans to raise money for the non-profit again soon.

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“We can’t exist without people like Payton,” Shawna added. “People will say it’s not much, but everything means something here.”

To learn more about Colorado Horse Rescue and its mission, as well as how to donate or become a volunteer, visit chr.org.

Kelly Werthmann