Grand Rapids — Stocking Elementary received a visit from a young woman with a large donation of school supplies and a heart dedicated to helping students.
A car accident during college resulted in a traumatic brain injury, cognitive impairment and paralysis, but Hudsonville resident Sophie Minervino and her family got creative with ways she could support students and their education.
For her last birthday, Sophie asked for school supplies in lieu of gifts. Her request extended to family and eventually, community members who left their donations on the family’s porch.
Sophie’s mother, Susanne Minervino, connected with Cheyenne Buelterman-Fernandez, Stocking’s Kent School Services Network community coordinator, and arranged for their family to visit the school to drop off the donations in person.
“I love seeing school supplies, even as an adult,” Buelterman-Fernandez shared with the Minervinos. “That has been the beauty of the pandemic; we’ve all come together to support each other and at Stocking, we always appreciate when community support comes from anyone and everyone in their own way.”
The gift included boxes filled with notebooks, binders, crayons and markers, as well as snacks, socks and water bottles.
“Sophie woke up squealing today,” her mother said. “This is the most exciting day we’ve had in a while.”
Susanne Minervino worked with her daughter to write notes and instructions for school staffers to distribute supplies to classrooms and students with certain needs.
Principal Michael Thomasma welcomed Sophie and her parents in the school’s gym and waited for Hannah Wikle’s second-grade class to join them.
Minervino introduced Sophie to the class and shared how her daughter has always wanted to be a teacher.
“Sophie was a student at Grand Valley State University before her life had a turn of events. She was in an accident, but has experienced a lot of healing over the last year and all she can think about is being back in schools and helping students like you,” Minervino said.
Second-graders raised their hands to say hello and ask questions. Sophie practiced her teacher skills by moving her hand to call on the students, and her mom helped communicate her responses.
“Sophie spells out everything she has to say,” Susanne Minervino explained. “We go through the alphabet out loud, and she blinks to tell us which letters she wants to use.”
With help from their teacher, second-graders held up the letter and read it aloud. “Our class is learning to write letters, so we thought we would write a letter to Sophie to thank her for donating supplies for us to use,” Wikle said.
Minervino said collecting donations and visiting the school has “really brightened up the past few months” for their family.
“It has given (Sophie) hope and a way to help, even though she can’t teach right now,” Minervino said. “My husband and I are very proud of her; Sophie is just an amazing girl and her heart for children, especially the underprivileged, is just incredible.”
Added Buelterman-Fernandez: “Any time our community schools get recognition or are shown support by people like Sophie or our community partners, it’s really great for our teachers and students.”