GREEN: William Maynard brought an armload of books to “stuff the turkey” at Greenwood Early Learning Center Thursday.
The 5-year-old kindergartner wasn’t sure why he was putting many of his own books into the turkey’s “belly,” but he knew the reason must be important.
“They are going to the Primary, but I don’t know where they are going after that,” he admitted while eyeing the colorful “turkey” decoration filled to the brim with school supplies and children’s books.
Next door, in Tammy DeDominickis’ second-grade classroom at Green Primary School, children were aware their donations of tissues, hand sanitizers and wipes would go to children less fortunate than they are.
“We’re going to help make their school clean and give them a better education,” said 7-year-old Logan Dyer.
“We’re going to give them a better life,” added Eric Wolford, 8.
Annabelle Lormeau, 8, said the 313 second-grade students at her school were participating in a project that would provide a brighter holiday to less fortunate students.
“They are Christmas presents for a school that doesn’t have what we have. The books will go to school because they don’t have any,” she said.
The class shouted their agreement with Dennis Butts, 8, that it would be “horrible” to live in a home where there are no books to read.
That is exactly how members of the 2012 class of Leadership Akron felt when they visited students and staff at Leggett Community Learning Center last year. They decided to take action, said member Joe Swiatkowski.
“I think that touched us a hell of a lot more than anything else,” Swiatkowski said. “A lot of us grew up with advantages. If we can help the people that didn’t grow up in the best circumstances, we should be doing it,” Swiatkowski said.
Leadership Akron, founded in 1984, is made up of aspiring community leaders who are committed to service and building and improving the community’s well-being. The program gives members an opportunity to see a broad view of the community outside their own spheres with the goal of producing a group of leaders ready to advance the community.
Two Leadership Akron classmates, Swiatkowski, president of Hickory Harvest in Coventry Township, and Valerie Wolford, director of communications for the city of Green, immediately zeroed in on trying to improve the Leggett students’ Christmas experience.
“It’s my favorite time of year,” said Swiatkowski, who has three children from 9 months to 9 years. “A lot of these kids don’t get anything for Christmas. They need things as simple as hats and gloves,” he said.
During the Leadership Akron education day visit, Wolford said she was troubled when one of the Leggett teachers said many of the students don’t get gifts from Santa. She said she realized the enormous gulf between her own children and those at Leggett when her son came home and asked for an iPad for Christmas.
“How do we teach [our kids] that Christmas isn’t all about the get?” she asked.
Enriching the lives of the Leggett students could be a lesson in compassion for her own children as well as the students in two schools that sit side by side on Graybill Road.
Greenwood school counselor Erica Bauer said she signed on because it is a wonderful teaching opportunity.
“As kindergartners, they need to know there is a world beyond their classroom. We are always looking for ways for our kids to understand philanthropy, even at this age. It’s kind of an abstract idea, but we try to start the discussion,” Bauer said.
But Wolford and Bauer realized that unless the students in Green were called upon to give up something personal — not something contributed by their parents — the lesson could be lost.
“One of the ideas that we came up with was to ask for new and gently used books. That way they can go to their bookshelves to choose. It gets them involved. If they just go home and ask for $1, it loses its meaning,” Wolford said.
Big plans for the holiday
With all Leadership Akron 2012 class members, and many of those in the 2013 class committed to the project, plans ballooned to give the Leggett students a very special holiday.
Their goal is to raise $20,000 in cash and donations for students, teachers and the school.
“We would like each child to get a book, teacher/classroom supplies such as hand sanitizer, tissues, and each to get a new toy,” Wolford said. Other needs are composition and wide-rule notebooks, hats and gloves, crayons, markers and money for a small gift for teachers.
Organizers are looking for a donation of gift bags, preferably draw-string backpacks, and are hoping a business will donate lunch for students and staff members who usually eat warmed, pre-packaged meals each day.
“It would be nice to have a hot, kid-friendly meal to give them. It would be something special,” Wolford said.
Ten iPads also are on the “wish list,” Wolford said. “It’s a wish list. If we hit all our other goals, we will be happy. It’s Leadership Akron, we have big dreams,” Wolford said.
Leggett Principal Philomena Vincente said Leadership Akron members have no idea how much their generosity will mean to children who have so little. Most of the children are growing up with generational poverty.
“Fewer than 20 percent of our families own their own homes in this district,” Vincente said.
“During a reading class last year, we suggested students share one thing that happened that day at the dinner table,” said Vincente, who has been principal at the school for 11 years. “One little boy raised his hand and asked, ‘What if you don’t have a table?’ He told his teacher they eat on the floor.”
Still, Leggett students are much like their counterparts in Green just 10 miles to the south. They look to Christmas with anticipation, and like most children, expect Santa to arrive Dec. 25 even after parents tell them he won’t be coming.
“They write letters to Santa, but we know a lot of them won’t have Christmas trees or decorations,” Vincente said.
“They bring in copies of toy catalogs and tell us everything they are going to get. Then they come back after the first of the year and say they didn’t get any of them,” Vincente added.
This year, even if Santa doesn’t show up on Dec. 25, Leadership Akron and students in Green will make sure he delivers toys and other goodies to the school on Dec. 14, Swiatkowski said.
Through Skype, Green students will participate in the festivities.
“Any help anyone gives we are grateful for. Everything, every dollar goes toward these kids who have so little,” he said.
Donations may be sent to Leaders for Leggett c/o Joe Swiatkowski, 90 Logan Parkway, Coventry Township, OH 44319.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.