By CRISTINA JANNEY
Students at Westside School in Hays have created Blessing Bag for students who are in foster care.
Angie Ward, Westside high school teacher, said the students developed this as a kindness project.
Westside is an alternative school that helps students who may have emotional difficulties that make it difficult for them to attend full-time in a traditional classroom.
Westside staff members presented to the school board during a recent meeting.
"[We created this project] in honor of one of our classmates, who came to Westside because of a foster care placement. Even though he was in a tough spot, we watched him succeed. In his four months at our school, he completed seven classes," a Westside student said in a prerecorded presentation.
Another student said, "We want to help other students in a tough spot, know that someone believes in them!"
The students brainstormed on what kind of items would help students reduce stress. They also developed a budget for the project. The students determined they could purchase items for 16 bags with funds they received from Ana's Gift.
The students shopped for the items themselves and kept a running total to make sure they remained within budget.
All of the bags included hygiene items, pajamas, stationary and "My Big Notebook," which is a book that helps students deal with their emotions.
The students decorated the bags using vinyl that was donated by the foster mom of one of their classmates and added special messages to the front of each notebook.
"You are special, and no one else is like you. You have potential in life, so work hard and earn your education. I wish you good luck and best wishes," one of the students said in his note.
Lindy McDaniel, assistant director of special education, said the students in the program have grown a lot this year.
"And we've grown a lot listening to our students," she said.
McDaniel said the Westside staff is learning how to offer more empathy to the students who are in foster care and served in the Westside program.
One of the students who is in the program at Westside and also a foster child shared he had been in six different high schools during his freshman year.
"He said, 'Miss Lindy, I feel like I'm a UPS package that has been shipped all over the state. This is the first time I've found a home,'" McDaniel said.
The program was made possible through a grant from Ana's Gift, which is funded by Stan and Lori Hertel, a USD 489 school board member.
Ana, the Hertels' daughter, began her project by collecting stuffed animals for emergency responders. Then, unfortunately, her disease, Multiple Pterygium Syndrome, took her life. She died on February 10, 2010.
Her generosity through Ana’s Gift helped many children who were experiencing traumatic situations. She was very proud of the influence she had on children, according to a release from USD 489. Following her passing, her parents decided to take Ana’s mission in life and carry it on. Ana's Gift continues to fund projects at USD 489.
EyeSMILE of Hays and "Big Notebook" authors JC and Carla Carlisle also donated to the program, which allowed the students to create four more Blessing Bags.