EAST GREENWICH — Instead of wearing uniforms to school last Thursday, students at Our Lady of Mercy School sponsored a dress down day and raised $716.50 in support of an orphanage in Honduras. The orphanage shelters about 40 infants and children who are HIV positive or have AIDS.
“I feel a little sad that they are born sick because they have all these obstacles,” said Amanda Della Ventura, 10. “It makes me feel lucky of how healthy and fortunate I am.”
Della Ventura, along with 17 other students, is a member of Our Lady of Mercy’s “Friends of Mercy” group. They focus on the critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy, an international community of Roman Catholic women vowed to serve people who suffer from sickness, poverty, and a lack of education. Sister Catherine McAuley, a nun from Dublin, Ireland, founded it in 1831.
“Spiritually, it benefits me because I am learning about a great follower of God and how I can relate to a person like that and be able to follow her work,” said Logan Cuthill, 12, who along with Madison Abood, 10, noted that the group meets after school once a month to pray and work on service projects that help the community.
Mary Kate Donaghey, 10, also said they are assigned to read a quote by McAuley on the loud speaker each week.
“I’m next to do one,” she said.
Sister Ann McKenna, R.S.M., a teacher at OLM, said the school began offering the program to fourth, fifth and sixth graders in 2011 after two local nuns visited McAuley’s foundations in Ireland and England. During their stay, they discovered the Friends of Mercy.
“They realized that we did not have a similar group in the U.S. and asked a few of us who work in Mercy Schools if we would be interested in starting a group with fourth graders, so we did,” said Sister McKenna.
OLM was the first school in the country to adopt the program, with St. Mary Academy-Bay View and Mercymount Country Day School also recently implementing it. Sister McKenna often connects with staffers at both schools to swap ideas for projects.
For students, being part of Friends of Mercy is more than an after school club. Donating to the orphanage in Honduras is just one aspect of their charity.
“We help the environment and poor people so that the world is a better place,” said Cecilia Bianchi, 11, with her younger sister, Sophia, 10, in agreement.
While Brayden Allen, 11, pointed out that they collected old flip flops that were recycled into material for protective playground turf, Maddie Knudson, 12, and Tori Cannon, 11, said they gathered and cleaned empty chip bags and Capri Sun pouches that were also recycled.
That’s not all.
“At lunch, we volunteered to stand by the trash cans to make sure the milk cartons and water bottles were going in the recycling bin,” said Kylie Mulhearn, 11.
Mark Marandola, 9, and Alise Knudson, 10, spoke of the posters they create and hang throughout the school to promote their various initiatives. Crafting the posters, he said, not only raises awareness for the rest of the school, but gives the group the chance to work together and share ideas.
“When we do activities with markers or crayons, I usually team up with Paul [Thompson, 9],” Marandola said, with Knudson, adding, “And you have someone to talk to.”
Stephanie Pauley, 11, said it’s also good to work together to promote camaraderie.
“If there’s a person who never has a partner you can be their partner and give them joy,” she said.
The fact that the dress down day took place during National Catholic Schools Week reminded students of the many things they have to be grateful for. Whether they are encouraging other students to recycle, working together to makes cards that accompany food baskets for people in need during Thanksgiving and Christmas, donating to local shelters, or helping an orphanage in Honduras, they realize the sacrifices their teachers and parents go for them. In turn, it makes them want to do the same for others.
“It’s nice to help others who don’t have as much as we have,” Olivia Martin, 9, while Gianna Plante, 11, summed it up by saying, “It makes me feel proud.”
For Principal Sister Jeanne Barry, RSM, hearing the children talk about their efforts made her feel proud, as well. It also stirred other emotions.
“It brings tears to your eyes,” she said. “As soon as they were told about the orphanage, their first question was, ‘What can we do to help?’”