Kids Help Kids Impacted by Hurricanes

The author of Another Kind of Hurricane created a service project for students to aid others by sending clothes and handwritten messages of kindness.

Students with jeans from a clothing drive (left); boxes ready to be sent (center); a recipient in Louisiana.

In October, 2016, Baton Rouge, LA, families were still struggling to get back to a semblance of normal after devastating flooding in August, when two months’ worth of rain fell in a single day.

Fifteen hundred miles away in Woodstock, VT, a seventh-grader wrote a message on a piece of paper and placed it in the back pocket of a pair of jeans. The jeans were one of more than 100 pairs that students from Woodstock Union High School and Middle School sent to students at Live Oak Middle School in Watson, LA, who were recovering from the flood.

A new community service idea

The blue jean donations and their messages of kindness were part of a service project developed in the wake of Hurricane Irene, but it can be adapted to connect students with any others who are in need.

It started when Woodstock Union’s librarian, Susan Piccoli, invited me to visit her seventh graders. While they were researching the impact of Hurricane Irene on their Vermont community, the students had read my book, Another Kind of Hurricane (a portion of whose sales goes to lowernine.org). It tells the story of two boys—Zavion, in New Orleans, and Henry, in rural Vermont—who never would have met, save for a marble left in the pocket of some jeans Henry donated to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

The week after I was at Woodstock Union, I visited a sixth to eighth grade class at Live Oak Middle School outside Baton Rouge. School librarian Amanda Jones described the flooding’s overwhelming impact on the community. I was humbled by the kids’ resilience and moved by their willingness to share their experiences. "You know how Zavion had snakes swimming in his kitchen? I did, too!" one student told me.

Classroom teacher Allison Hull said that for the kids who had vivid memories of the disaster, voicing their feelings during my visit gave them “something to cling to and the feeling they were not alone.”

I began to wonder how I might connect these Louisiana and Vermont students. After I brainstormed with Curious City owner Kirsten Cappy, an advocate for children's books and creators who creates free book and engagement guides for schools and libraries, we created the Blue Jeans Project, we launched the project with Woodstock Union and Live Oak.

“It was the perfect opportunity for our communities to come together as a result of what we shared in common,” said Piccoli. “It introduced not only an educational opportunity for students to learn more about another school and community, but also the chance to help their peers."

Some of the notes that kids placed in the jeans were personal: I hope you enjoy these because I certainly did. Others were philosophical: Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.

"It made me feel really good to share some optimism and positivity with the students receiving the notes," one Vermont student said. Adds Hull, "The words of affirmation meant so much to all of my kiddos.”

Notes tucked into the pockets of blue jeans sent to students at Louisiana's Live Oak Middle School.

"We know that reading fiction builds empathy. We know that children can feel powerless when disaster strikes,” Cappy says. “The Blue Jeans Project can turn empathy into action."

We need to cultivate empathy, respect, and curiosity. Kids can and will lead this charge.

Tamara Ellis Smith’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane (Schwartz & Wade/Random House), was one of Bank Street’s Best Books of 2015. Her picture book Here and There (Barefoot Books) will be published in spring 2019. Tamara lives in Vermont, currently working on more picture books and another middle grade novel. Visit her at tamaraellissmith.com.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

TOP STORIES

LIBRARY EDUCATION

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COMMUNITY FORM

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.