STAFFORD — Shelly Berens and Julie Richardson, of Stafford, have been chosen to be recipients of a new program called the Country Music Teacher Classroom Initiative, which is designed to provide teachers across the U.S. with classroom supplies and project funds.

Teachers create a wish list of desired items for their classroom and project materials needed throughout the year. This list is distributed weekly on social media as part of country musician Jake Gill’s ongoing initiative to serve children and teachers throughout the U.S. and the world. Items may be purchased by anyone in the world and delivered directly to the selected teacher.

"I am passionate about early childhood education because it is essential for setting children up for successful lives," said Richardson, an early childhood teacher at Stafford Grade School. "Preschool is the first encounter children have with (the) public school system and I love being able to help establish positive school-home relationships with children and their families. My students’ brains are sponges at this age and they are capable of absorbing so much content through play. The look in a child’s eyes when they master a new skill is worth more than any paycheck."

Berens, who teaches music at Stafford Middle and High School, said she has become aware of how much teachers touch students’ lives over the course of the last 23 years she has worked as an educator.

"Music reaches students of all ages, races, beliefs and economic status," Berens said. "I love it when the light bulb comes on and the student sees that their hard work and persistence show an amazing end result. To see the joy on their faces as we sing a favorite song or get cheers from the crowd while playing in a pep band at sporting events is a reward in its own right."

Gill, a seven-year member of the Country Music Association, founded the CMTCI after a series of life-changing events in the early spring of 2020. It is his hope that teachers and classrooms all over the world can benefit from this program.

To support Berens and her classroom, visit her wish list at

To support Richardson and her classroom, visit her wish list at

Items purchased will ship directly to the teachers. To nominate a teacher to be a recipient of the CMTCI, visit the website or the Facebook group