First graders turn dollars into thousands

By Joyce Duriga
Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Ash Wednesday, each first-grader at Frances Xavier Warde School, 120 S. Des Plaines, was given $1 and asked to “grow it” to benefit children in need. They ended up turning those dollars into a donation of $11,025.11 to Chicago-based Catholic Extension for Cajun Camp, a summer camp sponsored by the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, for children who are deaf or blind.

The young students presented Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, with the check at the school on May 6. Before the check presentation, several students shared with their classmates, parents and teachers what they did to increase their $1.

One student held an art show with her own orignal artwork, another made and sold a book of his favorite recipes, a few baked and sold cookies or cupcakes.

Laila Valenti raised $1,500 by holding a concert where she played her cello and sang. About 60 friends and family attended. Her sister also performed.

“My sister when she was in first grade did it too and we always thought that it was a good thing to do,” Valenti said.

Was she nervous performing for so many people?

“A little bit but at the end I felt really happy,” the first-grader said.

“I love this project. I’ve done this twice now with both of my daughters,” said Laila’s mom, Priya Valenti. “I think it’s a great way to teach kids that every little bit counts. And it teaches them that with just one dollar and their own time and talent they can make a difference.”

This is the ninth year the school has participated in the Lenten fundraiser, which a teacher started after hearing a homily by Wall about the needs of the poor.

“It grows every year and this year it grew exponentially,” said Clare Hurrelbrink, the school’s religious-education coordinator. “Every year they get more creative. The parents talk to one another and there’s a lot more parent involvement.”

The school emphasizes a spirit of service so it becomes second nature to the students to help others, Hurrelbrink said.

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

Wall told the children he was very proud of them.

“You know how to care. You know how to help others, to reach out to others, to let others know that their lives are important,” he said. “These children [in Louisiana] are just like you. They are good kids. They are life-giving kids.”


  • catholic extension
  • service
  • frances xavier warde school
  • cajun camp

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