2007-12-20 / News

Gift-giving reaches global heights

By Michaela Kennedy

Melissa Bershad, left, Sofia Greco-Byrne, center, and Mady Brown, sixth-graders in Beth Weibust's class, took part in a gift wrapping party for children in Rhode Island and Iraq. Photo by Michaela Kennedy Melissa Bershad, left, Sofia Greco-Byrne, center, and Mady Brown, sixth-graders in Beth Weibust's class, took part in a gift wrapping party for children in Rhode Island and Iraq. Photo by Michaela Kennedy Sixth grade students in Jamestown bought and wrapped presents for children in need both locally and abroad through two separate gift drives this holiday season. Through their spirit of giving, the three classes at the Lawn Avenue School touched families' lives in Rhode Island and Iraq.

The first program was aimed at helping children at home. For the second consecutive year, homerooms in the sixth grade participated in the Gingerbread Express, a gift-giving program sponsored by the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) Children's Fund. The program helps less fortunate public school students who may be facing a holiday without gifts. Information about their clothing needs and wishes are written on gingerbread paper cutouts. Each class received four cutouts, and students bought and wrapped presents requested on the lists.

In addition to the Gingerbread Express, teachers and students in the sixth grade expanded their giving activities to another level. Through a connection with a U.S. Air Force officer, the classes learned that many impoverished children in the villages and wartorn streets of Iraq were also in need of kindness, and did something about it.

Math teacher Cynthia Cherney's son, 1st Lt. Sean Stapler, went to Iraq in September and is scheduled to be stationed there for one year. Stapler told Cherney that many soldiers deployed there have been involved in distributing toys and school supplies to children who have little or nothing with which to play or learn. "What they love to do is give the children things," Cherney said of the soldiers. "It creates a lot of goodwill with the local people."

Cherney, together with the other sixth-grade instructors, Deb Barone and Beth Weibust, told their students about the project, and they all decided to participate as a sixth grade idea. "The kids know that he's there and wanted to send gifts to the soldiers," Cherney added.

Letters went out to parents, and students had the opportunity to choose items they wanted to send to the Iraqi children. Balls, crayons, sketch books and art sets were only a few of the sundry toys and educational items the students wrapped as personal gifts. "I mailed nine huge boxes to my son," Cherney said.

The reason for the teachers to involve their students in giving projects started as a way to help others and also teach the children the true meaning of the spirit of giving. "For years, we got lots of presents from kids, but we felt there could be a better way to give," Weibust noted. So a few years ago, the teachers asked around for people who needed help.

The giving programs began with fulfilling wishes from the McKinney Homeless Shelter in Newport and Lucy's Hearth, an emergency shelter for women and children in Middletown. Last year, the classes switched their focus to the needs of the NEARI Children's Fund through the Gingerbread Express program.

Local gift-giving, coupled with the care packages sent to Iraq, gave students the chance to know they made a big difference in the lives of others this Christmas and Hanukah season. "Every class that has done it says it feels like little Santa Claus," Weibust said. "Children always step up to the plate and give generously."

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