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placeholder  January 21, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

Gabrielle Poma, David Valencia and Krystn Janicek are among the student leaders at St. Edward School in Newark.
Courtesy photo

From students to students, with love

Pupils at St. Edward School in Newark taught themselves a valuable lesson when they put their heads together to brainstorm fundraising ideas to assist people affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Estimates to repair the damage wrought to New York and New Jersey by the November hurricane are estimated at $80 billion.

No contribution to helping ease that burden is more heartfelt than the $8,000 from St. Edward Parish and School in Newark.

Through the campus ministry's free dress day and movie night, and the student council's sale of hot chocolate during lunch, the students added to the $7,000 parishioners contributed to a special collection.

Touched by the news and images of the hurricane and its aftermath, Gabriel Rhoades, who teaches seventh grade and is the moderator of campus ministry, saw an opportunity. "I thought it would be nice to help a fellow Catholic school in need," Rhoades said.

He consulted Rev. Jeffrey Keyes, CPPS, pastor of St. Edward, who suggested the teacher contact the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, for guidance. Through that effort, Rhoades learned that Hoboken Catholic Academy had been hard-hit by the hurricane.

The school's boiler room was heavily damaged, leaving it without heat and electricity. "What really got to me," Rhoades said, "the kids have to go to different schools now."

While repairs are being completed, which could take the remainder of the school year, students have been divided between two schools. Classes are being taught by their teachers in the gyms. Many parents find themselves driving to two different schools, Rhoades said.

As moderator of the campus ministry team for the past six years, Rhoades said he has worked on making it a "become a really vibrant part of the school."

Composed of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students who are altar servers, as well as writers of morning prayers and planners of school faith events, the campus ministers meet after school on Tuesdays.

It was during one of those meetings that Rhoades asked Krystn Janicek, eighth-grader and president of the group, about ways the St. Edward's students could assist their counterparts in New Jersey.

The campus ministers settled on a free dress day, and helping out at a movie night, to which the parish families were invited.

The suggested donation was $1 to wear something other than the uniform on the designated day. But the students' generosity exceeded expectations.

"One of my friends gave $10," Krystn said. "That was really nice."

Rhoades noted there were fives, 10s and 20s among the dollar bills.

David Valencia, a seventh-grader, also donated his time when he helped set up tables to sell tickets and popcorn at the movie night. Jovenes Por Cristo, a Latino youth group, saw the notice about the movies and attended.

Service is part of the culture at St. Edward School, where the students participate in Koins for Kids, which helps fund education for children in need at Dominican schools, and in the annual Catholic Relief Services' Rice Bowl during Lent.

Student Council President Gabrielle Poma was working on fundraising ideas for the student council when she and her mother had a game-changing conversation, deciding, she said, "Hurricane Sandy is much more important right now."

Fueled by contributions from their own pockets of hot cocoa mix, cups and marshmallows, the council members set about making and selling hot chocolate at lunch.

"This was pretty fun," Gabrielle said. " I could see us doing something to help kids like us across the country."

The students' generosity was appreciated by their principal. "They're just so giving in their outreach," said Principal Gregory Fonzeno. "It really was a grass-roots effort."

Each class made a card, sending best wishes to the Hoboken Catholic Academy students and their families. The cards and the checks from the school and parish went into the mail in mid-December.

Thank yous started popping up in Rhoades' email inbox. One read, in part, "The hurricane has been a challenge to the community but it has also shown us the amazing acts of kindness and generosity possible through faith."

The acknowledgement has touched the pupils.

"It felt real," Gabrielle said. "The letter made it seem like we were doing something. That is was student-done, I think that's even more amazing."

For Rhoades, it has been a tangible lesson for pupils in the works of mercy. No one will need to ask for an example of a corporal work of mercy. They've done one.

"It made me feel there's always a way to help people," Krystn said. "You don't have to give $100,000. Every penny's worth something."

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