Little Girls, Big Hearts: CICS West Belden Students Give Back

By: Jackie Baez

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico this past September, I knew that I, my family, and our community would get involved in relief efforts. Through work with the Puerto Rican Cultural Association of Chicago, the Latin American Motorcycle Association and Grace and Peace Church, we had already supported relief efforts for victims of the disastrous earthquake in Mexico. Because Puerto Rico meant alot to us personally and the people there needed our help,  getting involved was a no-brainer.  What I didn’t realize was how big a role my young daughter Janitz M. Garcia would play in this effort.

Everything began at report card pick up day for my twins, Janitz & John, at CICS West Belden.  I rushed into the classroom frantically apologizing for my lateness to my sixth grade daughter and her patiently waiting teacher. Mr. Kissane  welcomed me and brushed off my apology, saying he had seen on TV the Hurricane Maria fundraiser the Latin American Motorcycle Association had organized. “You know,” he said looking at Janitz, “we should do something here at the school.” Janitz instantly replied, “That would be awesome–anything to help my Mom to continue her efforts to help the people in Puerto Rico.”

Quickly, Janitz took the lead and she and Mr. Kissane shared the idea  with other teachers who were immediately on board. When I asked if I could help, I was met with a “no Mom, I want to make this a project of my own.” Janitz  took it from there and  recruited three of her classmates & friends for her project. The foursome began emailing, texting, and working on the weekends to devise a plan to support ongoing relief efforts for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Through their generosity, attention, and dedication, these four middle schoolers  raised $1,637.97 in only a week. The girls organized a  family movie night where the proceeds from snacks and tickets went towards paying the shipping cost of 24 palettes of canned food, water, and hygiene products to San Juan, PR. While the girls took the first step, it became a school-wide effort.

Experiences like this are important because they teach our future generations to step in and do the groundwork themselves. Mr. Kissane suggested the idea but let Janitz and her friends drive the work. This  reaffirmed for them not only how important but also how possible making a difference is.  By CICS West Belden setting that precedent, walking the girls through the process and embodying their desires to give back, the girls gained the skills and confidence to take an idea and make it their own.

These young girls are  following in the footsteps of those of us committed to service for others. I’m so  proud of these future community leaders and so grateful they’re in a school like CICS West Belden that fosters independence and allows them to grow.  It’s not about ourselves, it’s about others. My hope is that Janitz, her classmates, and all young leaders continue to learn and  to do good work.