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Oceanside Students 'Walk the Walk' for Those Who Can't: An Exercise in Empathy and Kindness

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Angela Abend is the gifted and talented teacher in my home district of Oceanside, NY. My son was a student of hers and that is how I met her. The work she is doing warrants an audience and I've learned over the years to share my blog space with worthy stories.

Angela's students select a charity each year to do work for as a part of their community engagement. This year, the students selected the Limb Kind Foundation as a way to give back. 

Project Extra.jpgBy  Angela Abend (and the Oceanside PROJECT EXTRA Class of 2019)

Inspired by I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds, the 6th grade Oceanside PROJECT EXTRA students selected, again, Limb Kind as this year's charity of choice.

It has become a tradition to "give back" after being a part of the PROJECT EXTRA program for three years and to choose a book that inspires us to do so. We decided to highlight the important message of empathy, as shown beautifully in I Am Human, and we sought to put that message into action.

We created a video adaptation of I Am Human with the help of the incredible team of film students and their wonderful teacher, Ms.Audrey Miller, from Oceanside High School in New York. We communicated with the author, Ms. Verde, through the use of the video discussion platform Flipgrid, and we shared what we learned about her and her writing process at our culminating event. We were very excited to learn that Ms. Verde would be our very special guest of honor at the I Am Human presentation in March.  

Our first major event at the start of the school year was to help run the children's carnival at the Limb Kind Beach Benefit in Lido Beach, N.Y.  It was there that many of us met people who had benefited from the work of Limb Kind and Camp No Limits. After that day, we knew that Limb Kind, would be the center of all our fundraising efforts for this school year. The mission of this international charity is to improve the lives of children with limb loss by strengthening the amputee community and providing pediatric prosthetic care for all. Many PROJECT EXTRA classes were given the opportunity to speak with its founder, Oceanside's own, Robert Schulman, and learned even more about his vision.

For our first fundraiser, we organized a Bloxels Blowout Event at Barnes and Noble. While there, we read Peter Reynolds' The Dot during storytime every half hour and demonstrated Bloxels, a video-game design platform, throughout the course of the day. After that, we represented Limb Kind at many school dances, family fun/ fitness nights, and blood drives where we distributed T-shirts, bracelets, and lanyards for donations. We then put together a "Make a Change" fundraiser where spare change was collected in one school, and over $1,200 was earned in a week. Raffle tickets were also sold at our second annual Family Skype Night, raising an impressive $1,100 in just one hour. Earnings from all of our events were placed on an online fundraising page that we created where supporters could donate directly as well.

In addition, we created goody bags of Beanie Babies and Matchbox cars for children of Haiti who received prostheses from Limb Kind. We translated 22 copies of I Am Human into Creole to be shared with the children as well. In our makerspace, we designed adaptive bicycle-handlebar extensions to be printed and used at Camp No Limits, a camp for children with limb loss/limb difference. We will also be sponsoring a Super Smash Bros. Tournament where donations will go to the purchase of an XBox adaptive controller to be donated to Limb Kind, who will give it to a child who is able to use and enjoy it.

Our new friend, Logan Passe, a Limb Kind kid spokesperson and ambassador, participated in a virtual book club with some of us through Flipgrid. Through short videos, Logan and the students shared their reactions and responses to Dusti Bowling's Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. In this book, the main character, Aven, has limb loss. How excited we all were when the author, Dusti Bowling, found the time to participate in our virtual book club and leave not one, not two, but three videos to answer all our questions. She was super kind and very nice.

In addition to authors, we connected with a wonderful kindergarten class in North Carolina that purchased our fundraising bracelets and followed our fundraising journey on Twitter. The students supported Limb Kind and saw Logan as the rock star that he truly is. Speaking of rock stars, Stefan Lessard, bassist for the Dave Matthews Band, donated $750 to our cause to help us reach our initial $5,000 goal, and singer/songwriter Darius Rucker donated $1,000 to bring us over $10,000. These incredible connections were all made through the use of social media. In addition to the many schoolwide charitable events held, we have shoveled snow, received birthday donations in lieu of gifts, donated piggy bank contents, and sold artwork and inspirational prints for Limb Kind. To date, we have raised: $11,065.  

Our efforts came to a conclusion on March 19, during our I Am Human school celebration. We shared all of what we did to accomplish our many goals and presented our fundraising check to Mr. Schulman of Limb Kind.

Susan Verde, Rob Schulman, Logan Passe, and New York Councilman Anthony D'Esposito were all in attendance. The board of education, superintendents, and administrators from throughout the Oceanside Union Free School District were there to cheer us on, too.  We also shared this very special event with our families.

After, we took some quiet time to write personal reflections on our I Am Human experience. Here is what Julia D. had to say:

"After our 'I Am Human' celebration, I could barely express the joy I felt for Logan Passe, Robert Schulman, Susan Verde, Peter Reynolds, Mrs. Abend, and our overall Project Extra Class of 2019. I had the opportunity of meeting a famous author, the founder of the foundation that we've been raising money for, Limb Kind, and a child spokesperson for the foundation. I can't describe the emotion everybody in the room felt. Thanks to Mrs. Abend, the normal room of W23 was turned into a masterpiece; a work of art in which we celebrated by getting our books signed, speaking at the podium, and taking pictures with Logan, Mr. Schulman, and Ms. Verde. Susan's words in I Am Human inspired us to make a difference by volunteering our time and putting ourselves in other people's shoes. We were able to make sales at school dances, movie nights, and much more. We can continue to help people in need by showing that anybody can make a difference if they have the heart and the voice. If we never contacted Rob or Susan, we never would have given ourselves the chance to make a change. I am overwhelmed by how wonderful the day went and more than proud of how hard we worked for the day to run as smoothly as it did."

Finally, here is Keaton L.'s response, which we feel sums up our I Am Human experience perfectly:  

"We inspired other people who are much older than us and we showed them that even though we are 6th graders, we can make a huge difference in the world and actually changed people's lives for the better."

"I Am Human" video montage

https://vimeo.com/325924139

"I Am Human" article written in Long Island Herald 

http://www.liherald.com/stories/oceanside-project-extra-students-donate-10550-to-the-limb-kind-foundation,113027

"Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus" Flipgrid:

https://flipgrid.com/a0ef921a (flipcode: lifeofacactus)

"I Am Human"/Susan Verde Flipgrid:(flipcode: susanverde)

https://flipgrid.com/a84a8186

Angela Abend is a veteran teacher in the Oceanside school district where she works as the gifted/enrichment specialist 

Photos by Angela Abend

This post was updated June 11 to include an introduction from Starr Sackstein. 

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