As the holiday season approaches, schools throughout DeKalb County are getting into the spirit by giving what they can to help the less fortunate, whether it be gathering items for care packages or decorating retirement homes.
Carmen Graciaa, director of faith at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School (IMH), said this holiday season the school has a variety of current service projects.
“Right now we have a toy drive and it’s for Catholic Charities Atlanta and our goal is to collect 500 toys that will be distributed,” Graciaa said. “As an educator, my primary responsibility is to educate the children in what they should be doing not only in their classrooms but their lives,” Graciaa said.
IMH is located off Briarcliff Road and on Dec. 2, the students walked a few hundred feet to visit some neighbors whom Graciaa said were in just as much need of their service as anybody else. After school the students visited Briarcliff Oaks, a senior living community, to help put up holiday decorations and spend time with residents.
“I think it’s extremely important for both the adults and the children,” Laura Jones, assistant administrator of Briarcliff Oaks, said of the children’s visit. “Far too often our children don’t see the elderly. So, this is very important and the children from this school are just tremendous when they come down here.”
The students will return to Briarcliff Oaks on Dec.14, to visit and play bingo with residents.
“We’re really trying to develop an ongoing relationship with them,” Graciaa said. “We focus on the facts that we have been blessed in so many ways and it’s our responsibility to reach out to others and make life the best for every one.”
At Kingsley Charter Elementary School in Dunwoody, kindergarten students in LaShawn Jenkins’ class have been collecting storage bags filled with toiletry items, and scarves, blankets and water.
Jenkins has been doing this with her classes for the past three years but said, for her, the service doesn’t just stop after all of the items are collected. Every Christmas, she and her family hand deliver the bags to those in need.
“I started doing it when the economy was getting really bad and I found out that some of the kids in my classroom were homeless,” Jenkins said. “The first year I collected 15 bags and my family started doing 25 bags each year.”
Each Christmas before her family opens presents, Jenkins, her husband and her 8-year-old daughter, get in the car and drive down Peachtree Industrial Boulevard from Suwanee to the Atlanta Civic Center.
“We just stop and give them to those who look like they’re in need along the way,” Jenkins said. “If we could do it every weekend we would, just to hear their stories and talk to them.”
In the City Schools of Decatur system, Renfroe Middle School is doing a service project with AnySoldier.com and sending personalized care packages to soldiers. Haqiqa Bolling has been a counselor at Renfroe for 18 years and organized the project along with Robyn Tibbetts, City Schools of Decatur’s 2011 teacher of the year.
Bolling said each homeroom picked a soldier from the website who requested items for his or her unit. She said some students raised money by selling lemonade, having bake sales and setting up a donations tent at a local chili cook off. When all of the items are collected, the care package will be sent to the soldier, who will then distribute them throughout their unit.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe in terms of the war itself…You think they have everything that they need over there, but they don’t. I think it’s about compassion and making a difference.”