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First-graders make their treasure grow to serve other children in need

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First-graders make their treasure grow to serve other children in need

— More than 100 first-graders, teachers and proud parents packed the cafeteria
at a Catholic elementary school in Chicago to present their unique Lenten
project gift to Catholic Extension, a national fundraising organization that supports
the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses.

an afternoon ceremony at Frances Xavier Warde School May 6, the first-graders handed
Catholic Extension’s president, Father Jack Wall, a handmade oversized check
for $11,025.11.

by the parable of the gold coins from St. Luke’s Gospel — in which the king’s
servants were rewarded for making their treasure grow — each first-grader had
been given $1 and the challenge to make it grow for a Catholic Extension-funded
ministry during Lent.

This is
the ninth year that the school’s first-graders have supported a Catholic
Extension project, and this year the first-graders chose Cajun Camp, a two-week
summer camp for deaf and deaf-blind children organized by the Office of Persons
with Disabilities of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana.

receiving the check, Father Wall expressed his gratitude and told the children
how proud he was of their service and fundraising.

know how to care. You know how to help others,” he said. “These kids
are just like you. They are good kids, they are caring kids, they are
life-giving kids, but they need somebody to reach out and give them a hand and
a little bit of help.”

At the
ceremony, the youngsters stood on a stool to reach the podium microphone and
share creative stories of service and giving. Students made everything from
lemonade to cookies and cupcakes or did chores around the house to raise money.

One student,
Megan Meyers, hosted an art show at her parents’ house and sold her paintings
to teachers and family. Another one, Andi Ginder, said, “I sang six songs
and put it on a CD. I then sold them to friends and family. I had fun doing it.”

Laila Valenti
decided that she wanted to do a musical fundraiser and asked her big sister,
Lena, a fourth-grader, who had done the Lenten project herself when she was a
first-grader, to join her in a recital.

The two
girls are accomplished musicians. Lena began playing the violin at age 3 and
has added voice and piano to her repertoire. Laila got an even earlier start at
age 2 — when she was the size of a violin herself — and has since added cello
and voice. Both sing in their parish choir.

As music
lovers, the idea of helping children who can’t enjoy the magical power of music
was particularly compelling.

plays a powerful role in motivating the girls to reach out to others. “We
hear at Mass about the importance of helping people,” said Laila. They
both do regular volunteer service projects such as helping at nursing homes and
homeless shelters. And they have also held other concerts for charities.

people attended the Valentis’ recital, and the girls raised $1,500 for Cajun

think that everyone should have the same chances in life,” said Lena. “When
they do, it brings less attention to the fact that someone is different and
helps us realize that those differences don’t really matter. It’s important to
support a camp where everyone fits in and can be confident about themselves. …
It makes them feel good.”

Caillouet, program coordinator for the Lafayette diocesan Office of Persons
with Disabilities who oversees the camp, agreed. “As Christians, it is our
responsibility to love and care for those with disabilities and to prevent
discrimination. At the camp, we focus on morals and values.”

Camp serves deaf and deaf-blind children ages 5 to 13, many of whom come from
families who struggle financially. The Catholic Extension support gives them
the opportunity to attend a traditional summer camp with art and crafts, sports
and field trips with others who all face the same physical challenges.

said the support “allows us to provide more services for the campers,
while keeping the costs affordable for our families.”

Xavier Warde’s Lenten project for Catholic Extension was started eight years
ago by the grade school’s religion teacher, Clare Hurrelbrink, who has helped
it grow from year to year.

do not do justice to telling you how humbled we are to have the opportunity to
engage in this project every year,” Hurrelbrink said. “Who knew back
in 2008, when our relationship with Catholic Extension began, that our first-graders
would make their dollars grow into amounts we never could have imagined.”

this initiative, it is our hope to raise awareness in our children of the
importance of service to the community,” she said. “It is a lesson
that highlights the Christian reality that it is in giving that we receive.”

its founding in 1905, Chicago-based Catholic Extension has distributed more
than $1.2 billion in today’s dollars to provide funding and resources to
dioceses and parishes that cannot support themselves.

– –

Note: Information on how Catholic schools and parishes can organize Lenten
projects or other service projects to help U.S. mission dioceses can be found


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