Students at West Hartford’s Braeburn Elementary School recently collected hundreds of socks for the homeless, and have stashed rocks with inspiring messages all around town.
By Ronni Newton
The students at West Hartford’s Braeburn Elementary School have been busy giving back to West Hartford as well as Hartford community, in ways that will provide continued warmth as well as positive inspiration.
In December, the Braeburn students collected hundreds of pairs of socks which were distributed to homeless people in Hartford, and also participated in a “Kindness Rocks” program.
First grade teacher Marta Weidl organized Braeburn’s inaugural sock drive last year when West Hartford resident Bryan Bywater’s daughter Hannah was in her class. Bywater is an Anglican Priest with Church Army USA, a church devoted to “boots on the ground” missionary work with the homeless, prisoners, people in nursing homes, and others.
“I decided to challenge the kindergarten and first grade after finding out they were learning about empathy,” Bywater said. He said he challenged them to collect 300 pairs of socks – but they collected more than 750.
Bywater helped distribute the socks to the homeless in Hartford. His said that between 80 and 100 homeless come to Bushnell Park every Saturday to partake in the Church Army USA’s outreach, which includes handing out socks and underwear, and serving coffee and food. “It’s not just what we give but how we give,” Bywater said. “I know the names of the people wearing the socks.”
Bywater said his own children accompany him to Bushnell Park and other Braeburn students have come, too.
The Braeburn kids are great, said Bywater. “Church Army has been given a huge gift,” he said.
Students also began the “Kindness Rocks” program in December, and Braeburn Principal Jeffrey Sousa said that it’s continuing to impact the community.
Home Depot donated the small rocks, Sousa said. There were enough for all 360 students as well as staff members.
Sousa said that approximately 400 rocks were painted silver or gold, and inscribed with messages of inspiration. The students then chose where to leave the rocks, which are still being found around the West Hartford community.
“We’re spreading kindness and positivity through the community with the messages,” Sousa said. “Take time to laugh” … “choose happiness” … “be kind” … “I believe in you” ….”peace” … “smile at someone today” … and “dream big” were just some of the messages painted on the rocks.
The positive impact of “Kindness Rocks” is lasting far beyond the holiday season, Sousa said.
Bywater shared a photograph of the rock that his daughter Hannah painted. It was inscribed with the words “be courageous,” and placed in the Little Free Library that sits in front of their house. A neighbor, who was about to have surgery, found it the next day.
“WIth all of the ugliness in the world this is a breath of fresh air,” Bywater said of the Braeburn students’ actions. “Braeburn is making the world a much better place.”
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