Sept. 20, 2010— -- Fifth-grade students at an elementary school in Memphis, Tenn., are proving that words really can make a big difference.
As part of a homework assignment, schoolchildren at Sherwood Elementary were told to write letters to the heads of the largest companies in the world and ask for help for their inner-city school. The students wrote about tattered textbooks that needed replacing and a shortage of gym equipment.
Many of those CEOs read the letters, and they've responded with hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of donations.
Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" tonight on ABC.
"They had to do more than just ask for things, they had to justify and only ask for things that help the entire school," said teacher Lachell Boyd.
Just weeks after writing their first letters, the kids started receiving responses. HP sent computer equipment worth more than $100,000. A local sporting goods manufacturer donated $30,000 worth of balls, jump ropes and other supplies.
"It is so amazing to watch the children having their dreams come true," said the school's principal, Tonya Miller.
Tristan Moore wrote the CEO of Turner Construction, the company that built the new Yankee Stadium in New York; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; and even helped with the construction of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
In the four-page, handwritten letter, Tristan wrote about his school's lack of a place to exercise. He enclosed photos of the dark, dank basement where he and his classmates try to play.
"The hardest part was writing, writing it neatly, because we had to make sure it was almost perfect," Tristan said. "At first, I didn't think he would respond back."
Peter Davoren, the CEO of Turner Construction, said today that he reads his own mail and was moved when Tristan's message crossed his desk.
"When I read the letter, it reminded me of the fact that I have a fifth grader of my own, named Thomas," Davoren said, complimenting Tristan's penmanship. "It was very articulate, it was written very, very well."
"It was interesting that he didn't say, 'We want you to do the following,'" Davoren added. "He requested in the letter, 'Is there anything you can do to help us facilitate some sort of exercise equipment or something like that.'"