Wellington Heights students receive their gingerbread kits. SUPPLIED

Wellington Heights students put compassion into practice

Sheryl Bench loves her job, even in pandemic times.

As the teacher of a mixed Grade 5 and 6 class of 25 students at Wellington Heights Public School in Fenwick, she has plenty of activities — both in class and online — to instill teamwork and collaboration.

“I have a group of very talented kids who have great respect for each other,” said Bench. “In December, we had a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our teamwork in an initiative with Habitat for Humanity.”

Bench’s class read The Carpenter’s Gift, a Christmas story about the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree in New York City. Based on a true story, the tree gets donated to Habitat for Humanity to build homes after the Christmas season.

Jackson, a student in the class, said that the book “was about a boy named Henry who lived with his family in a shack. One day he went to cut down some trees with his dad, then they took them to New York City to sell. They gave the biggest tree to the workers who helped them, as a thank you. And then on Christmas Day, the workers came and they offered to build them a nice house, using the lumber from the tree.”

Wellington Heights Grade 6 student Kevin Stewart assembles his gingerbread man. SUPPLIED

Kevin, another student in Bench’s class, said that the book “was very inspiring, and it had a very important message.”

Christy Guttin, Community Engagement Officer with Habitat Niagara, connected with Bench and her students, and they partnered in a fundraising campaign with a local bakery, Cravings by Jayne, involving the purchase of handmade gingerbread man kits. Jayne Inouye, a Niagara-based French pastry chef, donated five dollars from every gingerbread kit sold up to December 24 to Habitat Niagara’s home building program.

Sheryl and her students are the stars of this piece,” said Guttin. “They helped us shine a light on youth philanthropy, and engaging our future leaders in community activities.”

Bench said her class would put together a small treat for the staff on Tuesdays, something like cocoa and gingersnaps, as a way of saying thanks for all the hard work under difficult conditions during Covid times.

“The staff made donations, and we used the money to purchase the gingerbread kits,” said Kevin. “Mrs. Bench called it ‘people helping people.’ We helped the staff, the staff helped us with donations to buy the gingerbread kits, Cravings by Jayne donated to Habitat Niagara, and Habitat gave stuff to people in need.”

“The students really felt the magic of Christmas when Mrs. Guttin pulled up to the school parking lot on December 22 to drop off the gingerbread kits,” said Bench. “We were outside with our masks and our Santa hats. The students just wanted to feel connected to our community, given that these days we’ve all felt a little isolated.”

Bench’s class even interviewed her 101-year-old grandmother in Toronto via their Microsoft Teams teleconferencing platform, asking questions about the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree, which has been a national tradition since 1933, and whose lighting has been broadcast live to millions on NBC since 1997.

“They wanted to find out what life was like back in 1933, as a child during the Great Depression,” said Bench. “My grandma has always loved connecting with our class, and receiving annual Christmas cards from students.”

Claire, another student in Bench’s class, summarized her experience.

“It felt really good, knowing that we were doing an act of kindness. One act of kindness inspires another.