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At St. Bridget School, community service is as ingrained in students as multiplication tables and historic landmarks. It is a part of the school's mission statement; to try and help others and make a contribution to the world.
When Sister Loretta Francis Mann came to St. Bridget earlier this year, she showed students a presentation on conditions at schools in Haiti. When the country was ravaged by an earthquake in 2010, thousands were killed and the country's infrastructure was all but wiped away. Approximately a year later, much of the country still lay in ruin and one of the most affected have been children, whose schools were reduced to rubble.
The images of struggling youngsters sent St. Bridget students into action.
Led by members of the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS), the school began a drive to collect a wide variety of items to send to its sister school in Haiti, the St. Pierre Catholic School in Jeremie. The plan was to collect everything from school supplies to diapers to non-perishable diapers and hand the donated items off to Sister Mann for her return to the region later this month.
“Sister thought she would be able to put everything in a suitcase and bring it down,” explained St. Bridget School teacher Barbara Gamache. “Instead, we ended up filling 12 large boxes, filled with a variety of things, from books to baby food.”
Gamache, who is an advisor to the NJHS, along with another teacher, stated that the idea for the drive began almost immediately after Sister Mann's visit. The group, which does numerous charity-related activities throughout the year, was trying to decide on its next venture when the presentation was made. Afterwards, Gamache approached Sister Mann and asked how the school could help.
“I said that we needed to do more to help, and I asked what could be done,” remembered Gamache.
Sister Mann related that she planned to return to Haiti at the end of February and that, since many of the students and their families lacked basic supplies, a drive of some sort would be beneficial.
Almost immediately, students in the NJHS began to get to work, putting out a bulletin to all students that supplies of almost every kind were needed. The collections began in January, which complicated everything. Snow began to fall the day after Christmas and didn't seem to stop for the entire month, resulting in numerous snow days and early dismissals. When all was said and done, collection was limited to about two weeks.
Yet, in that time, Gamache stated that St. Bridget showed its generous spirit as supplies began to pour in.
“The parents are so generous here,” said Gamache. “I really could put out an e-mail saying I need a certain thing and, in the morning, I would have four or five of them there waiting for me. It is what makes this place so special.”
The generosity is even more impressive, Gamache stated, considering how many service projects the school holds each year. They are so numerous, Gamache said, “they are always bumping into one another.”
What might have benefitted this particular endeavor, however, was the connection students made to the schools and children they saw in the images presented by Sister Mann. Many of the children shown suffering were the same age as the students at St. Bridget. It brought home just how lucky the students here truly are, Gamache believes.
“I had the kids write up comments on what they had seen in the images, and how that affected them,” said Gamache. “They definitely made a huge connection there. They realized they were helping children who were in trauma.”
When the supplies were finally collected, students in the NJHS rounded up everything, packed them and, for whatever couldn't be sent directly with Sister Mann, helped ship the contents. While that may have ended their involvement in the drive, Gamache said that the students know their supplies will be hand-delivered to those children in Jeremie, letting them know someone out there is ready to help.
“Giving of themselves has become second-nature to the kids,” said Gamache. “You don't even have to tell them to do it anymore. It is just something inside.”