Often times, when people think of making a donation to an organization such as St. Susan Center, what comes to mind is money.
But the Clymer Central School District recently proved that special donations can sometimes be made without spending anything at all - they can come straight from the heart.
On Wednesday, Dec. 8, the district set aside a 90-minute block of time to focus not on the normal, everyday academics, but rather on the life lessons that come from doing something nice for someone else just because it's the right thing to do.
St. Susan Center is filled with Christmas cheer thanks to a donation of decorations recently received from students at Clymer Central School. As part of the school’s Pirate PRIDE?program, students in kindergarten through 12th grade spent a portion of a day creating donations for others.
P-J?photos by Dave Emke
''We wanted to have at our school part of a day where we dedicated every class to doing some sort of community service project,'' said Bethany Heibel, elementary art teacher and part of the Pirate PRIDE committee. ''We do a lot of things to teach the kids about being responsible, respectful, and to just really be their best all the way around.''
The school was effectively shut down during the community service block, Ms. Heibel said, as students from kindergarten through 12th grade worked on projects to donate to the Chautauqua County Humane Society, Hamot Medical Center, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and many other organizations. Some students participated in the Empty Bowl Project for the homeless, others prepared packages and gifts for members of the Armed Forces overseas, and others still visited Corry Manor nursing home to name just a few more projects participated in during the time period.
St. Susan Center in Jamestown was yet another beneficiary of the students' efforts. The soup kitchen has been filled with holiday cheer courtesy of the Clymer students, with handmade Christmas tree ornaments, wrapped boxes and centerpieces decorating the center's dining room space. Students in Sonja DuBois' second-grade class also donated a Christmas story they wrote and illustrated.
''It's something unique, and we're always inviting people to be creative and unique in the ways they reach out to St. Susan Center and to our guests who come in,'' Ms. Colwell said. ''I love all this stuff - it makes things a little brighter, and it's neat when you go out there and see all those decorations.''
DOING SOMETHING SPECIAL
Pirate PRIDE is a program designed to provide direction for character education programs throughout the Clymer Central School District. PRIDE stands for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline and Endurance.
Ms. Heibel said that when the Pirate PRIDE committee was looking for organizations to benefit from the recent project, St. Susan Center was near the top of the list.
''We knew that St. Susan's was one of the organizations in the local area that gives back to the community all the time,'' she said. ''So when we were planning, I spoke to some of the people there to see what our students could do to brighten up the day of the people at St. Susan's.''
When she paid a visit to the center to brainstorm ideas, Ms. Heibel said, she saw pumpkins decorating the dining area for the fall season. It gave her the idea to have students create Christmas decorations to for the holiday season, with special-education classes making ornaments. Tenth-grade students wrapped boxes as gifts and created centerpieces decorated with peppermints.
Fifth-grade students also donated their time to the center, rolling to-go silverware for Christmas dinners and including holiday messages.
''I think they're all ready to be restaurant workers now,'' Ms. Heibel joked.
Ms. Heibel said that even the youngest students who were part of the community service projects earlier this month understood they were doing something that was going to spread good feelings.
''Even the kindergarten classes said, 'They are going to be really happy,' or, 'This is going to be pretty for them,''' she said. ''They use different words than we do as adults, but they were still able to acknowledge that they had done something really exciting for other people. They really knew they did something special for somebody else, and that's what we're trying to instill in them. It meant a lot to them, and we want them to know it's important to give back to the community - even simple things.''
DONATING IN SIMPLE WAYS
Ms. Colwell said there are many ways ''simple things'' can be donated to St. Susan Center, in addition to the monetary and non-perishable food donations for which the soup kitchen always looks.
In the organization's most recent newsletter, she said, a call was put out for ''Operation: Winter Gear'' - gently used hats, gloves, scarves and mittens to keep the center's guests warm during the harsh season.
''The response has been phenomenal,'' Ms. Colwell said. ''The exciting part about getting these things is that they really fill the different needs.''
Christmas cheer has come to St. Susan Center in recent days as well in the form of music, with a musician stopping to play Christmas songs for two hours one day and a flautist visiting to play a set a couple days later. Ms. Colwell said improving the mood of visitors to the soup kitchen is a way to volunteer one's time.
''The monetary stuff is important, but there are other things that are more important, I think, to our guests,'' she said. ''We're here feeding people, and that's the most important thing, but equally important is for us to build relationships with people.''
Ms. Heibel said that through the Pirate PRIDE program, and specifically through its most recent project, students have come to understand how important organizations such as St. Susan Center are to the local community.
''Many of the classes watched one of the promotional videos from St. Susan's, so they learned about what they do,'' she said. ''And some of the teachers have asked about volunteering there, so I think it brought a lot of light in our school to what St. Susan's does for the city of Jamestown.''
Ms. Colwell said that St. Susan Center is always is in need of more volunteers. However, she said, it is also important for people to think about volunteering wherever and whenever they can, within their own communities.
''If somebody could shovel a sidewalk, snowblow a sidewalk, put some salt down - those things don't sound like a lot, but if you're walking, it is a big deal,'' she said.
And as for the Clymer Central School students who spent a portion of their day thinking about others, including her guests at St. Susan Center, Ms. Colwell said that they should be proud of their efforts - and the smiles that have resulted.
''I'm just so blessed,'' she said. ''It just touches my heart to see so many things that those kids did.''