Students from the Montessori School of Greater Hartford, which is located in West Hartford, held a jog-a-thon and raised $7,000 which was used to buy Christmas gifts for a family in need, grocery store gift cards, and more.
By Ronni Newton
A West Hartford mom and her two children had their wishes come true this Christmas, thanks to the hard work and generosity of students at the Montessori School of Greater Hartford, and their teachers and families.
Through a long-standing effort of the town’s Department of Social Services, West Hartford families in need have traditionally been “adopted” by other families or organizations, who provide gifts on their Christmas lists.
“I like that we could help a family in need,” said 6-year-old Atticus London, a student at MSGH. “I’m happy because they have what they need and what they want.”
West Hartford resident Rebecca London, Atticus’ mom, said she and her family have adopted a family through the Social Services Department for the past 13 years, but this was different.
“This was really a school project that these kids took on,” London said. “They decided they really wanted to do something, decided that they wanted to help a family.”
Steve Ligon, now in his seventh year as a teacher/guide at MSCH (three years at the lower elementary level and four years at the adolescent level), said the idea for adopting a family came about while the students were taking an outdoor walk break behind the school this fall, and was part of a goal of keeping traditions going despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The elementary classes have always run in the Mitten Run, and at the end of the year we do a donation to Heifer International,” Ligon said. The students generally train for the Mitten Run on a 1/8-mile course set up on the school grounds, but this year the Hartford Marathon Foundation’s December race in Blue Back Square was canceled.
While walking with his students around the training course one day, Ligon suggested the idea of a jog-a-thon as a way to raise funds for a donation. The students loved it and they settled on a date – Nov. 23 – which left the kids just a week to collect sponsors for the event.
“It was a really great exercise for them,” Ligon said of the preparation to collect sponsors. “We spent a day writing the script.”
The students were each given a 5×7 envelope with spaces for the names of 20 sponsors, but Ligon didn’t think most students would have more than a few. “Some used the whole thing,” he said.
On the date of the jog-a-thon, the students in the lower and upper elementary class were given two hours, and sponsors donated based on the number of times they went around the course during that time.
Two classes of students – 20 from the lower level and 14 from the upper level – raised a total of $7,000, Ligon said.
“The family shared their needs and wants,” Ligon said, which included bicycles for the two children. The students “were blown away,” and surprised that many of the same things were on their own holiday wish lists. Also included on the list was winter clothing for all, a cooking set and air fryer for the mom, and a giant dinosaur toy.
“We were able to cover all of the needs and wants,” Ligon said, with money left over. Grocery store gift cards – 20 cards for $100 each – were given to families in need at Whiting Lane, and additional funds were donated to Heifer International, which will support two children attending school in another country.
“It was beautiful to see how excited and invested the children were to be able to do something,” London said. “There was a level of empowerment, a feeling that they were able to accomplish something special.”
Once the gifts were purchased, the students even made the paper used to wrap them, using block printing. They also included a card.
The overall effort was a perfect fit for the Montessori philosophy, Ligon said, and was a way for students to show love for people they have never met. “You put your hearts, your minds, and your hands together and you can come up with something really special,” he said to the students after they walked from MSGH, which is located on the campus of the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, to Town Hall to deliver the donation on Dec. 21.
With the help of volunteers from the West Hartford Police Department and West Hartford Fire Department, the students off-loaded a truck full of the donated gifts, and made a “package brigade” to transport the gifts to representatives of West Hartford Social Services who had carts waiting at the door.
“Thank you for all of your hard work,” Social Services Manager Astrid Calderon told the students.
Calderon said she is very grateful for the donation, and noted this year there were about 40 West Hartford families “adopted” through the Social Services Department. The community has been extremely generous, and being in the “middle,” getting to see the donations come in and providing them to families, is so gratifying, she said.
Atticus said he did 17 laps around the course at MSGH during the jog-a-thon, and raised $421. It wasn’t hard, he said, and he will definitely do it again.
He said he was excited about the big dinosaur which was given to the family – an item that was on his own Hanukkah wish list.
“We’re living in such challenging times, and it’s nice to see the good things happening, too,” said London. It’s nice to see the children engaging in such generosity, taking ownership of the community.”
“Hopefully this will be one of our new traditions,” Ligon said.
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