Hurricane Irma Heroes

Horace Mann students (from left to right) Carl Frank, Cain Bowles, Jonah Long, AJ Dinsdale and Sunxi Lugo display collected items from their hurricane relief service project.

Making a difference in an impactful way can seem like quite the daunting task, especially in today’s political environment. Thankfully, there is a select few who are willing to put in the work and take chances in order to make some change, even if they are only about 10 years old.

After the spark of an idea, a month of work and some in-class planning, five Horace Mann students, Cain Bowles, AJ Dinsdale, Jonah Long, Carl Frank and Sunxi Lugo, were able to collect a little more than 250 donations in the name of relief for victims of Hurricane Irma.

The idea started after one student was reading a book about victims of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. He could tell the devastation and destruction caused by the event was something he had never imagined possible.

Shortly after reading about Katrina, Jessica Buckley, a senior education major and practicum student at Horace Mann, met with the student to discuss how he felt about the situation and if he would ever be able to help people in need.

“He said something like ‘well, I’m just a fourth grader,’ and that’s what sparked my idea to do something,” Buckley said. “I don’t want a kid to think that way. We’re capable of so many things, whether you are a kid or a college student; you have got to push your limits.”

From here, Buckley met with the students’ teacher and asked if she could try and kick start a sort of team building activity. After the teacher agreed and Buckley gave the kids her idea, she left everything else up to them.

While Buckley said she didn’t expect much from the service project, both the immediate and after effects quickly showed her exactly what the kids were capable of.

The students quickly decided they wanted to band together to help victims of Hurricane Irma. They knew they could make a difference, but wanted to focus on a specific area hit. The kids also knew they didn’t want to accept any money as far as the project was concerned. Instead, they asked for donations of all kinds, including food, blankets, school supplies, etc. They primarily accepted physical objects because they thought people would be more willing to give these things away rather than money. After receiving hundreds of donations overtime, it is safe to say students were right.

Bowles, a 10-year-old who likes running through obstacle courses like on American Ninja Warrior, said a lot of discussing was done between he and his classmates in order to pick a specific area to send the donations.

“I knew we wouldn’t have enough for all of Florida,” Bowles said. “We picked the Florida Keys because we thought it was the most hit. We watched videos too and they were devastated and crushed. Even though it felt bad to see the water that had flooded everything, it really felt good inside to be able to help.”

Despite their passion for helping others, the kids found ways to make their work more fun than serious. Days where new donations would be in their collection were some of their favorites, and some days were more successful than others.

Bowles said there was one day where a group of college students came in toting more than 100 different supplies. Even compared to days like this though, Bowles said the days where the only donation was a single box of macaroni and cheese were just as exciting.

Dinsdale, a 9-year-old who loves swimming, said working together was one of his favorite parts of collecting donations. This aspect was important to Dinsdale as he and the rest of the group continued to think on a bigger scale.

“It was really fun collaborating with the whole group,” Dinsdale said. “Something like this could change a lot of lives for the people in the Keys.”

Dinsdale went on to say the collaborating was the most enjoyable and most difficult part of their mission to help others. He said the other four were always willing to listen to one another, but sometimes it took a bit of conversation to get everyone on the same page.

“It was really hard agreeing on choosing one specific thing to do,” Dinsdale said. “Some people wanted to do one thing while others wanted to do another thing.”

Despite a few smaller issues, the big picture was always in the back of the minds of the five students. They said one of the biggest driving forces in continuing the work was the idea that any of this could happen to them with something similar like a tornado.

Andrea Mason, a third and fourth grade multi-age teacher and teacher of the students who started the service project, said she wasn’t  surprised at how much it grew. The biggest thing she was surprised by was how involved and passionate the students were from the get-go.

“These kids have never been through a hurricane many of them can’t really even relate that well to a tornado,” Mason said. “So for them to be so passionate and to do as much research and video watching as they did is really surprising.”

The combined research from the team of fourth graders is exactly what led to the staggering amount of donations they gathered. The group of five found exactly what areas were most destroyed, what supplies were needed most and decided on a time period for the donation gathering to take place all on their own.

After the preparations were made, it was only a matter of getting the word out by talking to members of the community around town and on campus.

Long, a 10-year-old who says one of his favorite things to do is play baseball, wants everyone to know it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, there is always an opportunity to do something to help. Even if the contribution is small, there is always time to make a difference.

“You’re never too small or busy to do a random act of kindness,” Long said. “You can do something on your way back from work or you can make stuff for someone else, it doesn’t matter. You’re just never too big, small or busy to help.”

When asked if they would ever be interested in doing another type of fundraiser all five members of the original project answered with a resounding yes.

“Yes, definitely a quadruple thumbs up from me,” Frank, a 10-year-old who loves drawing, said. “If I had way more arms, all my hands would give a thumbs up for helping again.”

Big or small, making change is possible. The spark of an idea is all it takes to make a difference, and the students of Horace Mann are a testament to the possibilities of drive and passion.

Buckley said the original goal was just to get the kids thinking about helping others, but before she or Mason knew it, the small spark grew into a fire of ideas and passion for changing the lives of people these kids had never met.

“They are bigger than they think and they are capable of doing so much,” Buckley said. “It really is incredible if you think about five fourth graders raising enough donations to feed and help hundreds of people. Even as a college student, I have to think, ‘if they can do this, then what can I do?’”

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