COMMUNITY • BY MORGAN FECTO
Hurricane Sandy destroyed homes, businesses, and left many families to struggle in its aftermath. But surprisingly, it gave something to a young Takoma Park boy: a desire to help others.
“Everything is a learning process,” said Ellen Zavian, the mother of seven-year-old Takoma Park Elementary School student Justus Swan. “Everything can be turned into a lesson.” A lesson of charity came out of the storm once Zavian and her son decided to organize a school fundraiser with TPES for Belmar Elementary School in the coastal town of Belmar, N.J.
“It made me feel happy that I was helping others and that my whole school supported it,” said Swan to his mother about the fundraiser for BES.
After watching the storm devastate Belmar, where Swan once played and rode his bike at his family’s summer house, he was overwhelmed with sadness, said Zavian.
“They were all gone,” said Zavian of the Belmar playgrounds and bridges that her son loved. “And he started to cry.”
In an effort to make something positive out of the tragedy, the mother and son duo asked TPES to donate their spare coins to BES, whose students were impacted by the storm.
“Every kid has a coin- whether they pick it up on the street or whatever,” said Zavian.
Zavian and her son made a short video asking his peers to help out, which played on their morning announcements, said Zavian. Some kids donated spare change and others hosted nail polish parties to get money for BES, and their efforts raised $350 for BES, said Zavian.
“This is one example of the empathy and warm feeling that we’ve felt from around the country,” said BES Principal and Superintendent David Hallman. Of BES’s 575 students, five percent are still displaced from their homes due to Sandy, said Hallman.
Swan’s first grade class also made postcards of hope for BES students, and received letters back from the appreciative kids.
“We wanted to make this about positive feelings,” said Zavian
The children asked questions, drew pictures, and shared their interests in their postcards, exuding happy thoughts rather than feelings of pity, said Zavian.
“It got the kids to think beyond themselves, and in this day and age that is not an easy task,” said Zavian. “We want to educate our youth that there is always somebody worse off.”
The fundraising efforts lasted for a month and ended by late December, said Zavian, and then she and her son brought the check to BES. Hallman said that the donation will be used to promote happiness with BES students by funding assemblies and a beach celebration as soon as the Belmar boardwalk is repaired. He said that in these difficult times it will be good for the students to laugh and have fun.
The act of kindness connected the students in different states, and also rallied TPES toward the common goal of helping others, said Zavian.
“TPES is special because of how the staff, parents and students work together to make our school a success,” said Principal Zadia Gadsden. “A good humanitarian effort for our children.”
Through the group effort, TPES students learned that kindness is not a special circumstance, but something to live by every day, said Zavian.
For her son especially, it was a true lesson in what a single person can do with an idea, said Zavian.
“Even for someone who’s seven, this will be a moment that he will never forget,” said Zavian.