June 25, 2019

Students connect with kids around the world

Andie (second from right) holds a photo and family profile of the child her family sponsored after an Unbound weekend presentation at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Toledo, Ohio. Pictured with Andie are her brother, Noah, and parents, Sean and Jenna Shinaberry. Jenna is a teacher at the parish school where she coordinates class sponsorships of children around the world.St. Joan of Arc School student Andie (left) sponsors children through Unbound with her classmates. Andie is pictured with her mom, Jenna Shinaberry, a teacher at the school who coordinates the sponsorship outreach. In all, students sponsor 14 children from around the world through their classrooms.

Ohio grade school sponsors children in 11 countries

Students at St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Toledo, Ohio, make a positive difference year-round through their support of kids across the globe.

The students sponsor 14 children from 11 countries through Unbound. It’s an opportunity to learn the value of service and other important life lessons, said Jenna Shinaberry, a kindergarten teacher who started and coordinates the school’s sponsorship outreach.

“It was a way to make the world a smaller place for them,” Shinaberry said. “Our understanding of poverty is minimal for a lot of our kids.”

The hope is that students will take away three things:

  • An understanding of what poverty is and how the Catholic faith calls them to respond
  • The insight that people living in poverty are the same as them in many ways, though their challenges are different
  • Real-life connections to academic goals such as letter writing, geography and cultures, and Catholic social justice concepts

Nine-year-old Caitlin seemed to take those things to heart when asked earlier this year about her participation.

“I get to learn about people around the world and we get to help them,” she said.

Corrine, 9, has fun reading letters from the children her class sponsors, and she likes that she and her classmates write back.

“We get to know all their favorite things they like to do,” she said. “We respond to their questions.”

Creating connections

The 2019-20 school term will be the fourth year for the sponsorship outreach, which began with students in kindergarten through the fourth grade. Each class sponsors a girl and boy around the same age as the students. The classes continue with the sponsorships as they progress to the next level, and two more children are sponsored each year by the incoming kindergarten class. By 2021, every class at the school will sponsor children through Unbound.

The outreach started with seed money from a St. Joan of Arc parishioner and Unbound sponsor. Students pitch in by participating in fundraisers. A Lenten project, for example, encouraged students to log good deeds at home and earn money for them. Once they earned $5, students were able to buy a butterfly and attach it to a cross displayed next to an Unbound banner. They raised $735 through their good deeds.

Transforming hearts

Activities such as the Lenten fundraiser can have a lasting impact on students. In addition to focusing on academics, young people learn how to relate well with their peers, share common goals and have empathy for people they’ve never met.

The vision for the program is to one day see sponsorship spread to all Catholic elementary and high schools in the Toledo area, Shinaberry said.

The impact being made on students at St. Joan of Arc was evident at a recent Unbound weekend at the parish. Many families took on sponsorships of their own through the encouragement of their children. In all, 76 children and elders were sponsored following Unbound presentations at weekend Masses.

“The students understand their ability to make a difference in another child’s life,” Shinaberry said. “They were excited to continue that impact through sponsorships of their own.”

St. Joan of Arc art teacher Jessie Blazsik sees the benefits of students making connections with children from different economic circumstances and geographic areas. In her classes, she has introduced elements of art and culture from countries such as India, Tanzania and Ecuador.

Students are taking it in and enjoying learning about people and places around the globe.

“It gives me goosebumps to think about,” Blazsik said. “These kids could remember it. If it changes two of them, then it’s worth it. Even if it’s one kid, then that person is a ripple to a bunch of others who could have an impact.”