October 27, 2017

A big life lesson: First graders demonstrate ‘God’s love’ as they help friend’s family hit by hurricane

First-grade students in St. Ambrose School in Seymour are all smiles after raising more than $1,500 for classmate Gean Davila’s family impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Pictured in the front row, from left: Gean Davila, Lily Surface, Sloane Stephens and Isabella Fernandez. Back row: Gean’s mother Belitzabeth Vazquez, Natalie Chavez, Calleigh Fugate, Sam Cutsinger and teacher Amy Hughes. (Submitted photo)

First-grade students in St. Ambrose School in Seymour are all smiles after raising more than $1,500 for classmate Gean Davila’s family impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Pictured in the front row, from left: Gean Davila, Lily Surface, Sloane Stephens and Isabella Fernandez. Back row: Gean’s mother Belitzabeth Vazquez, Natalie Chavez, Calleigh Fugate, Sam Cutsinger and teacher Amy Hughes. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The first-grade children knew they had to do something when they saw the worry in their classmate’s eyes and heard the news about the heartbreaking situation involving his family.

So the first-grade class at St. Ambrose School in Seymour started by praying for the family of their classmate Gean, whose father, sister and grandparents were in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September.

Even before the impact of the hurricane, the first month of the school year had its rough moments for Gean, a new student at St. Ambrose this year. Every time his father traveled for work to Puerto Rico, Gean told his teacher Amy Hughes about much he missed his dad.

“When the hurricane hit, I heard the same type of sentiments but with greater emotional drain,” Hughes says.

The strain increased as five days passed without any word from Gean’s family members in Puerto Rico. And every day, the first-grade class prayed for Gean’s family. Finally, the news came. They were safe.

Still, the first-grade students wanted to do more to help Gean’s family. A plan began to take shape after Gean’s mother told Hughes that her employer was trying to help her arrange flights off the island for the family.

“What touched me the most was how much they just wanted to help their friend,” Hughes says. “They knew that Gean wanted to see his dad again, and that was something they felt they could help him do. They understood needing money to buy a plane ticket to be back together.”

The fundraising plan involved the 15 first-graders making a short presentation in each of the classrooms at St. Ambrose School—which has 126 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“On Monday, Oct. 2, my first graders went in groups of two and three to the classrooms in our school and told the rest of the school about Gean’s family—and that the following day any student who made a donation could be out of uniform,” Hughes notes. “On Tuesday morning, first-grade students carried a bucket from room to room. Students and teachers put their donations in the bucket, and the first graders said thank you.”

Returning to their classroom, the first graders couldn’t wait to see how much money they raised. They helped Hughes sort the donations into piles of checks, cash and coins.

“When we were finished, I told them that we raised over $1,400, and I knew that more money was still coming into the office,” Hughes says. “The class cheered and hugged Gean. He proudly told them that was a lot of money for Puerto Rico.”

Hughes cried as she watched her students.

“In first-grade religion classes, we often talk of how they can help in ways such as carrying groceries, helping parents around the house, or being good friends at school,” she says. “I think this showed my class, and the whole school, that everyone can make a big difference, no matter how young they are.”

More tears and hugs flowed—this time from Gean’s mom—when she came to the first-grade classroom on Oct. 5 and learned they had raised a final total of $1,554.81 from the St. Ambrose School community to help her family.

“I was trying to contain my tears, but it was impossible,” says Gean’s mom, Belitzabeth Vazquez. “I could not believe the act of kindness I was experiencing.

St. Ambrose School has been compassionate, caring and thoughtful. I realized that my son and I are not alone. St Ambrose taught me a big life lesson. They demonstrated the meaning of God’s love.” †

 

Related story: Students give from the heart to help hurricane victims

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