Friday, January 15, 2016

Students making a difference

Local middle schoolers learn about themselves through volunteer projects

by Morgan McKinley

When Christmas rolls around, and the name Charles Dickens comes to mind, all of us think of that most famous of books, A Christmas Carol.

And while that much-loved story indeed teaches us a valuable lesson about ourselves and how we approach the world around us, some Webster County students learned from a simple Dickens statement before the holidays.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of others.”

The sentence is actually a line of dialogue by the character John Rokesmith in one of the Victorian author’s lesser known works, Our Mutual Friend.

But one simple sentence opened a world of helping in their communities to the 8th grade English classes at Webster County Middle School.

The project originated from a unit the classes had completed on the Holocaust.

“The emphasis was on people who made a difference,” said WCMS language arts teacher Kathi Pride.

The classes read the book Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust, a collection of accounts compiled by Allan Zullo.

The book highlights some of the most amazing stories that arose from Europe during the 1930s and 40s.

The students then chose one child survivor to research and present to the class.

But it was perhaps the most famous child of the Holocaust that led to the volunteer projects.

Anne Frank’s diary, the inspiration for the play the classes read, is one of the most famous documents to arise from the Nazi occupation of a large segment of Europe in the early 1940s.

When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and instituted anti-Jewish measures, Anne’s father, Otto, took Anne and the rest of the family into hiding in secret rooms in his business.

But it was not without help from friends of the family that they stayed hidden for nearly two years.

With Christmas approaching, Pride and fellow language arts teacher, Christina Jones sent their students on missions to help.

“We hoped that the students learned that you didn’t have to be wealthy, famous, or popular to give something to others,” Pride said. “We wanted them to give something to others to help instill empathy for those less fortunate.”

The projects varied widely, from helping neighbors to assisting the school custodians.
A few students took the opportunity to expand their horizons and get an idea what volunteer work is all about.

Drew Jackson is a fairly typical middle school boy in that it is hard for an adult to drag a word out of him.

When he had to think of a project, at first it was a head scratcher. Of course, what he had on his head at the time led him to the answer.

He pointed to the woven hat on his head. “I usually wear sock hats  a lot, so I decided to collect these and gloves and scarves.”

Jackson only had a couple of collection points for donations, but stood outside the Clay city offices during the Christmas parade with a box as well.

“I didn’t figure so many people would give as much as they did,” he said.

Jackson collected 93 sock hats in the two weeks the students had to complete their work. He added to that 220 pairs of gloves, 27 pairs of socks, and 12 scarves.

He also collected $120.00 in cash donations and delivered them to the Community Food Bank in Providence.

The most memorable donation for Jackson came from a woman who told him she had grown up with very little, and that it pleased her to be able to help others through him.
Kennedy Villines’ project also came from the head, as well as the heart.

The 8th grader had her hair cut and donated the clippings to an organization that makes wigs for women battling cancer.

She was inspired by an aunt who, sadly, lost her own battle.

“Even though she passed away before I could donate my hair, the school project provided the nudge I needed to go ahead and do it to help someone else still fighting for their life,” Villines said.

The key for Villines came from the desire to honor her aunt by doing more than just remembering her.

“Besides hugging her and telling her I love her and how awesome she was, there really wasn’t anything I could do to change the situation,” Villines recalled.

Erin Johnson put her skills to work making blankets, which she donated for patients at Signature Healthcare and Rehabilitation.

“I was happy so happy to give to others this Christmas that didn’t have family at the time,” said Johnson, who also worked with another class gathering gifts for Christmas Angel. “It was a very memorable moment.”

Providing meals for those less fortunate in the community is always a part of the Christmas season, and Blake Green worked with his church and their Simple Suppers program.
“I just felt good being able to make a difference in someone’s life,” he said.

Delacey Ford took advantage of the project and worked triple duty making homemade Christmas cards, visiting residents at Colonial Terrace Nursing Home, and working at Sebree Christian outreach.

Lillian Daniel collected and handed out stuffed animals and Bible at a child care center, and visited patients in the pediatric center of Methodist Hospital in Henderson. She gave the children there Bible and candy canes.

Natalie Austin gathered a number of clothing items to send to Faith Home for later distribution in Honduras through a missionary team traveling there this month.

Carrie O’Nan volunteered at Molly’s Mutts, an animal rescue and adoption center in Dixon.
And Grant Nance gave a listening ear, visiting veterans staying at the Veteran’s Center in Hanson and hearing their accounts of their lives fighting for this country.

Pride takes...well...pride in the acts of kindness the students showed during their experiences.

“In some of their speeches, they wrote, ‘You may put a smile on their face, and it just makes you feel good inside’,“ she recalled. “ ‘When you show others you can go out and do things for others, it might encourage them to do things as well.’ ”

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