I teach a learning disabilities class. I have 8 kids all day, and two more come in for reading and writing. I try to make reading fun, and have it be something the kids are looking forward to.
Our school has a lot of students that are economically disadvantaged. The majority of students are eligible for reduced or free lunch, and in our district we have a backpack program where my students take home food for the weekends. At Christmas we actually helped deliver mattresses to some of my students that were significantly in need.
But I wanted my kids to see that they can help other kids, too. I have pictures from mission trips I have gone on to Haiti all over my classroom, and two years ago I had a student who really wanted to donate his pillow and his blanket to my sponsor child in Haiti. So through Monmouth University, which is where I have done my mission trips from, they were able to get the blanket and pillow from my student to my sponsor child in Haiti. We did it, and I saw first-hand the impact it made on my student who sent the blanket and pillow, and I thought that I wanted to bring it to my whole classroom, and even my whole school.
Most kids in Haiti do not go to school, and they don’t have a Christmas like we do. My students often feel like they wish they had more, so I always tell my kids that they have so much more than the kids I have worked with on my mission trips, and that they get to go to school and learn, so when I proposed to my students that we help the kids in Haiti, they were so excited to be able to help other kids in need.
I got these one gallon bags to fill with collections from kids to give Christmas gifts and school supplies. Then my students went and told other kids and teachers in our school what we were doing. We didn’t want money from our students, just whatever they had and didn’t need. We collected enough to fill four suitcases of gifts and school supplies for the kids in Haiti. If I had the money, I could have easily sent more than four suitcases.
It wasn’t just about the impact it made on the kids in Haiti, but it’s about the change I saw in my own students. They were able to use their social skills to tell our school all about these kids living in poverty and why we are doing this, and every day they looked forward to counting how many more one gallon bags we had collected. We took pictures of our kids in Long Branch and sent them to the kids in Haiti. It was such an awesome thing.
So many people reached out. One parent donated mini toothpastes, and we were able to put toothbrushes and toothpaste in every kid’s bag. People donated toy cars, which would mean the world to a kid in Haiti to play with. We were able to send over school supplies, hats, visors and t-shirts, a medical kit, 22 backpacks and 85 Christmas gifts.
When my kids saw the pictures of the kids in Haiti opening the bags we sent them, some of my kids actually cried. They were so excited, but also so emotional. One huge thing was that when my students wrote their letters to Santa, almost all of them wrote asking for the kids in Haiti to have food and presents and just have a Christmas like we are able to have here. Seeing these kids asking for other kids to have more was incredible.
- Interview and portrait by Gregory Andrus
To find more of his work, visit www.potjs.com.