Buzzing with excitement, Park Street School’s (PSS) art room becomes a hub of activity Thursday afternoon after school with the “Stop Hunger Now” club.
What does an art room have to do with a nonprofit relief organization? A lot, it turns out, in the mind of fifth-grader Ainsley McCormack.
It began last summer when Ainsley and her family visited her aunt, Christine Hestwood, who directs music and art at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa. While she was there, Ainsley attended the church’s Bible camp, “Barefoot School.” As part of their week, fifth- and sixth-graders worked on a community service project together to raise money for “Stop Hunger Now” – an international hunger relief organization, working to end world hunger (www.stophungernow.org).
The fifth- and sixth-graders raised more than $2,000, giving each person or child who donated a sticker with a photo of an apple or milk or juice to show that they were helping to change a world crisis.
“It was a joy to see the little kids walk up to me with bags of coins – money they had saved in their piggy banks,” recalled Ainsley. “Parents gave money, too. One parent gave $100, and her husband’s company ended up matching that amount!”
Ainsley found herself thinking ahead to the coming school year back in Boston. She had wanted to start an after school club – an art club, in fact. But then, she says she realized that really, she needed a cause.
“Kids don’t realize that you could do something better to help the world,” she said.
And with that, Ainsley began to think about combining her desire to start an art club with the “Stop Hunger Now” outreach.
Ainsley found her aunt’s antique typewriter and crafted a letter to Tracy Bradley, Head of Schools for Park Street School and Park Street Kids, asking if she could meet with her when she returned to Boston.
“She asked to start a club which would create crafts to sell to raise money for `Stop Hunger Now,’” said Ainsley’s mom, Kathy McCormack.
In Boston, Ms. Bradley remembers being thrilled when she received the proposal.
“As I read Ainsley’s letter, I was truly inspired by her initiative and heart to serve others,” Ms. Bradley recalled, “and at the same time, so proud of her for expressing her ideas and vision.”
Ms. Bradley and Ainsley met to discuss the idea, and Ms. Bradley presented the idea to the Park Street School faculty during staff orientation in August. She asked for teachers willing to partner with Ainsley to help lead the club. Two staff willingly stepped forward: lead art faculty, Louisa Trombetta and science lead faculty, John Loefstedt.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Ainsley, “I am so thankful for their support, for helping do this amazing project with me, and I am so grateful they came forth with their time!”
Since that time, Ainsley and 15 other students have been meeting once a week in the art room, creating Christmas tree ornaments – made of glass, painted glass, pine cones, and plaster and decorative Christmas bags and greeting cards, each individually designed.
“I was amazed and surprised at how many joined us – kids from the third grade, the fourth grade and even some boys,” said Ainsley, “Even though it sounds like something that girls would rather do, the boys sit together and make ornaments, bags and cards, too. ”
Faith has been a part of it for Ainsley, as well. Knowing that God is omnipresent, that he has always been there for her has been a motivating factor, she says. Seeing how everyone has been helping, and watching the kids love others has been motivating, as well as realizing how fortunate she is.
“We are extremely lucky to have food placed in front of us at lunch and at dinner … and to have this great school … when so many go to bed hungry … It has brought me so much joy to see everyone helping!” said Ainsley.
And it has turned into a community project.
Hearing about the opportunity, fellow fifth-grade classmate Gabby Duncan joined the club. Previously, on her own, Gabby had submitted a video for consideration for a grant to the “All Girls Allowed” nonprofit Christian organization dedicated to expose the injustice of China’s one child policy, and to rescue women from gendercide in society. Gabby learned that not only had her video been selected, but that she had received the grant. With money from the grant, Gabby donated $150 to purchase art supplies for the “Stop Hunger Now” club to use.
Additional teachers from both Park Street School and Park Street Kids have popped into the art room from week to week, volunteering time to teach things like knitting and to work with students.
West End Neighborhood senior citizens have also arrived at 67 Brimmer St. on Thursday afternoons, donations of art supplies in hand, ready to paint, cut and apply ribbon, inspect for quality and help in the classroom.
And now, the kindergarten students are getting involved. As part of the annual school-wide drive to engage in service to others, each grade (from toddler to sixth grade) chooses an organization to support, by raising money and working on hands-on projects to help people in need locally in Boston, nationally or internationally. The kindergarten class has recently chosen to support “Stop Hunger Now” as their class project. They invited Ainsley to come in and talk to them.
“They had just finished reciting the “Pledge [of Allegiance]” and offering their prayer for the day when I went in to talk to them,” said Ainsley, “I told them that there are people who go to bed hungry and stay awake because they are hungry. They just stared at me. Once kids learn about it, they start to really care. Some think it is just in Africa, but it is worldwide.
“Now [the kindergarteners] know me and the project,” said Ainsley, with a smile forming, “and they know they are making a difference helping everyone. They listened to what I told them and they thought they could help.”
The kindergarten class plans to hold a bake sale later in the year and students have decided to bring in a portion of their allowance money to contribute.