Spirit of the Season: Students Give to Aid Refugees

Craft Sale Part of Effort to Raise $5,000 for SowHope

Anai Reyes checks out some 3-D printer-made Christmas ornaments sold by Kylee Thompson, left, and Israel Pagan

She may only be in seventh grade, but Zoe Paskewicz is well aware of what’s going on in the world. Scenes of refugees fleeing Syria and ISIS-inflicted cruelty make her want to help others far from her West Michigan home.

“I just want to give back this season,” Zoe said, getting nods of agreement from classmates Austin Van Putten and Kylee Thompson. “It’s not feeling Christmas, it’s being Christmas.”

As she spoke, fellow members of the Global Warriors were selling hot chocolate, decorated phone cases and jewelry made by refugee women. It was all part of Kenowa Hills Middle School students’ support of SowHope, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that aims to aid impoverished women around the world. Its health, education and business opportunities have helped more than 61,000 women since 2006.

Leaders of the SowHope fundraiser include, from left, Austin Van Putten, Kylee Thompson and Zoe Paskewicz

The current crisis has focused much of the group’s efforts on Syrian women refugees in Jordan. Kenowa Middle’s 27 Global Warriors – one from each classroom — are working to raise $5,000 to support the charity. They’re partnering with the American International School in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which is striving to raise the same amount. If both reach their goal, anonymous donors have pledged a match of $10,000.

The students’ two-day Christmas craft sale made a huge step toward the goal by taking in $1,700. They hope to raise the rest by April through a variety of fundraisers.

“I’m really hopeful, because I really want to raise that much,” declared Austin.

Class Discussions Prompt Action   

The project builds on one held last year to aid refugees fleeing Syria, but ramps it up considerably. Discussions of the crisis in social studies teacher Lynee Gilbert’s class prompted Austin and two other students to approach her with the idea of a benefit craft sale, which raised $680 for the refugees. Participation quadrupled this year after Gilbert asked all classes to send a representative, forming the self-styled Global Warriors group.

“This is really important stuff to teach kids about giving back, and realizing that we’re the ones that have it good,” Gilbert said. “There’s people all over that are struggling to even celebrate Christmas this year. Certainly we can give something.”

SowHope co-founder and President Mary Dailey Brown spoke to Gilbert’s students, and Administrative Director Amy Lindholm attended the recent craft sale. Besides educating students about the world, Lindholm said, the project is “a really great way to inspire adults to give, to see kids giving, just because they know it’s the right thing to do.”

Zoe Paskewicz and Grace Sage try out student-made fortune tellers, also known as cooty-catchers

Students gave in many ways, such as making some of the craft sale’s hot sellers. Those included “stress balls” – balloons filled with sand – rubber-band bracelets and marshmallow shooters. Seventh-grader Grace Sage demonstrated a super-size version of the latter to student shoppers.

“At home we all talk about politics and stuff,” Grace said. “I figured that if I can do anything at all, this would be a great way to do it.

“It just feels good to give other people a miracle. They deserve it too.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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