It all started with a school project. Glen Hills Elementary School students Laila and Alessandra, ages nine and ten, respectively, were recently inspired by an assignment from Alessandra’s fourth-grade teacher, Kathy McAuliffe.
“We learned about business projects and we had to come up with our own ideas for a project,” said Alessandra. “I came up with Kids In Need Donations (KIND) and I asked people to donate kids books that could be donated to kids who need books.”
Initially, Alessandra’s plan was to donate the books to kids in need in the Dominican Republic, where she has family members on her mother’s side, and where she and her family would be visiting over the summer for the first time in several years.
“We were ready to head to the Dominican when we realized that the books were too heavy to carry and too heavy to ship,” said Alessandra’s dad, Stephen. “They still wanted to donate something because it’s very poor out in the country over there. It’s a whole different world.” Russo, his wife Marinel Russo, and the girls put on their thinking caps.
“They finally decided that because there are so many girls in our family, we have three and others in our family have two and another family member has two with another girl on the way, that they would clean up dolls and donate them to the children there,” he said. “Marinel’s mother made doll clothes for them and redressed all the dolls.” The family packed up their luggage for the trip, including a big bag of doll toys, and during their visit, Laila, Alessandra and their family members walked through the country, delivering toys to those in need, both boys and girls.
The visit and toy delivery made an impact on the Russo family, both in the realization of how different the area was from their own homes and the realization of the value of their gifts to others.
“It made me feel very happy and excited, because we were making a difference,” Alessandra said.
“I was scared and excited at the same time, because I had no idea who they were and how they’d react,” Laila said.
Alessandra agreed. “I was nervous at one house because it was dark and we had no idea where we were going, but one woman smiled at us the whole time we were there and one man was just watching us all walk by with these toys, his mouth was open, he was so surprised.”
In addition to the original project that inspired KIND, Alessandra had other classroom work that connected well with her work with KIND.
“In Ms. Davis’ class they learned how to build a website, and Alessandra actually built a KIND website,” he said.
Although the project was initially inspired by a project in Alessandra’s classroom, Laila also noted that a Culture Day project in her class, assigned by teacher Lisa Davis, allowed her to share her Dominican culture with her fellow classmates.
“We had two days for Culture Day and we had to pick a culture that was from our mom’s side or our dad’s side or both,” Laila said. “I picked the Dominican Republic. We had to do a Power Point or a slideshow or anything else to represent our culture. One of the other kids asked if I’d ever been there and I said we were going to go in July and we were going to give out some toys, and Ms. Davis said, ‘That’s so kind,’ and she didn’t even know about KIND.”
Alessandra, Laila, and their family members have decided that for future trips to the Dominican Republic they would like to deliver donations again, but having learned a lesson on this trip, will opt to make a practical change and purchase the toys to donate once they arrive in the Dominican Republic, rather than carrying them with them.”
Stephen Russo emphasized that the work being done in the classrooms of his children has definitely impacted them outside of the school day.
“All of these projects they do, carry well beyond the classroom,” he said.