kids do the darndest things

Aiding poor trumps class trip

Bill Nemitz © Copyright 2006 Associated Press. May 18, 2007

There will be no out-of-state class trip this year for the eighth-graders at Cathedral School in Portland. But if you're thinking this is another one of those "kids paying the price for bad behavior" stories, think again.

"I was very, very touched by this," said Sister Theresa Rand, the school principal, as she sat with five soon-to-be-graduates Thursday morning. "To have a whole class say they want to do something like this is really very powerful."

Here's what they did.

Early last fall, the eighth-graders began the traditional task of raising money for their end-of-year trip.

They held dances. They collected bottles. They baby-sat and plunked every nickel into the trip fund. In December, they even set up at the Borders bookstore in South Portland and wrapped Christmas presents in exchange for donations.

The result? A fund that, according to class organizer Hannah Cormier, 14, now totals about $1,100 -- plenty of money to hire a bus and spend a day tooling around, say, Boston.

Enter Sister Lisa Valentini of the Pennsylvania-based Missionary Sisters of the Scared Heart.

Three weeks ago, Sister Lisa came by Cathedral School to talk about the work she does with poor families in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Her presentation, complete with large "picture cubes" depicting life in that part of Latin America -- tin-roofed homes that get "as hot as a microwave" during the summer, hungry kids who are lucky if they have one pair of tattered shoes -- lasted almost two hours.

"But it didn't feel like it. It felt like it went by like that," said Joe LaStoria, 13, with a snap of his fingers.

When they weren't looking at the pictures, the kids found themselves doing the math.

One penny, Sister Lisa told them, could fill a hungry child's bowl with rice and vegetables. Fifty cents could buy enough rice to feed a family for three days.

"It made me feel really appreciative of what I have," Joe said.

When it was over, Winnie Carlo, 14, and Helen Han, 13, approached Sister Lisa and asked what they could do to help. Could they go to the Dominican Republic with her?

Not until you're a junior in high school, Sister Lisa replied.

"But you could hold a talent show or something like that to raise money," she suggested.

"And we're like, 'Wait, we already have some money,'" Helen said.

Helen and Winnie floated the idea with their classmates during lunch period. By the end of the day, it was unanimous: Goodbye Class of 2007 Trip Fund, hello $1,100 donation for kids far less fortunate than themselves.

Twice over the past two weeks, Sister Theresa sat down with the class to make sure that everyone really wanted to do this. Twice, 19 young voices said "yes."

So, as of this week, the annual out-of-state trip is officially off. Instead, the class will spend a day at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth -- not exactly the Imax Theater at Boston's Museum of Science, but who cares?

"As long as we're all together and having fun," Joe said, "it doesn't matter where we are."

Francesca Morabito, 13, nodded.

"Or how much it costs," she said.

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