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Vickroy: Little hands, big hearts: Third-graders work tirelessly to help kids with cancer

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What: Greenbriar School Silent Art Auction

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. May 14

Where: 101 W. Greenbriar, Chicago Heights

Etc.: (708) 756-4159, greenbriarch.wix.com/silentartauction

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Updated: May 21, 2014 6:20AM



It’s hard to point to just one hero in the story I’m about to share.

There are the girls who had a great idea.

There are their classmates who embraced that idea.

There is the teacher who elevated that idea into something really big.

And there is a community, of teachers, students, parents and businesspeople, who have rallied behind that seemingly small idea, transforming it into a celebration of generosity, as well as a symbol of hope for kids enduring one of life’s cruelest challenges.

It was just before ISAT testing in March when Keri Cialdella, who teaches third grade in Chicago Heights, learned something very special about her students.

She already knew these boys and girls were kind; they had an air of generosity that seemed to go beyond ordinary empathy.

But when she learned what they’d been up to the previous months, she paused and let the tears fall. Other teachers had the same reaction when they learned of Cialdella’s discovery. Even the school principal struggled to keep it together upon hearing the story.

It all began with cleanup day.

In an effort to clear the classroom of clutter as well as clear young minds for the impending state exam, Cialdella decided to finally get rid of an empty desk that had turned into a “catch-all” inside the Greenbriar School classroom. Before relegating the space-clogger to the hallway, she opened it.

Inside she found half the classroom library. She chuckled to herself and began stacking the books. That’s when she found treasure.

A jar filled with coins, dollar bills and a yellow sticky note that said “$17.00.”

“Whose money is this?” she said to the students.

The youngsters looked at one another and answered, “It’s nobody’s money. It’s for kids who have cancer.”

The children had been making and selling string bracelets and key chains, around the school, to family members, to anyone who would pay the 50 cents, and depositing the cash into the jar inside the extra desk.

“I just started to cry when they told me,” Cialdella said.

Cialdella took the jar straight to Principal Joe Taylor. He too was taken aback by the act of kindness.

Chicago Heights is far from being one of Chicago’s affluent suburbs. In fact, Taylor said, 75 percent of the students at Greenbriar qualify for free lunch. To meet that criteria, a family of four must earn no more than about $30,000.

These kids are no strangers to adversity, Cialdella said.

“Yet their willingness to share seems to know no bounds,” she said.

Despite the challenges these kids face, or perhaps because of them, they have a collective soft spot in their hearts for children who are sick.

“These little kids are fighting every day to go home,” 9-year-old Enrique Gomez said. “Cancer is a terrible disease.”

“We’re scared,“ said Karla Ruiz, 10. “We don’t want them to die.”

Cialdella did what any kind-hearted teacher would do: She vowed to help her students achieve their goal.

Taylor and Cialdella, together with the other third-grade teachers, decided to take the fundraising campaign to a higher level. They began organizing a silent art auction. It will be held May 14 in the school gym.

Students across third grade are creating pieces for the sale. So are students at other grade levels.

The framed works, which include murals, abstract and contemporary pieces, will be displayed during a 30-minute preview at 6:30 that evening. Afterward, the silent auction begins, with winners being announced at 8 p.m.

All of the money raised in the auction, as well as the money collected from the key-chain sales, which now tops $100, will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Chicago.

The public can also donate to the campaign by visiting the Silent Art Auction website at greenbriarch.wix.com/silentartauction

In between painting, drawing, coloring and pasting, the students in Cialdella’s class continue to make string key chains, pot holders and bracelets.

Though no one wants to take full credit for starting what they insist is a group project, Melissa Alvarado let it slip that America Antunes was the first to bring string to school. Ideas on what to do with it were bandied about, and before long, the youngsters, unbeknownst to their teacher, had a fundraiser in the works.

Since hearing about the project, people across town have begun donating more string. And the kids have responded by working more furiously.

“You see them everywhere, working, making things,” Cialdella said.

Cialdella was able to get all of the art supplies used for the auction donated through donorschoose.org, an online charity that lets public school teachers post project requests toward which the public can contribute.

And the momentum keeps growing. Other teachers and students have since jumped on board. Taylor’s daughter asked how she could help.

One student’s mom offered to add to the till by buying and selling candy bars during the auction. Michaels craft store has made a donation. So has the Chicago Heights Park District. And White Castle is donating hamburgers to be served during the event.

Even Cialdella’s mother, a cancer survivor, is donating handmade flowerpots to be sold at the auction.

Taylor said the whole district is behind the campaign.

“To know that these kids can be that thoughtful, that aware at such a young age, it’s just amazing,” he said.

“To think that these kids are so kind. It just makes me cry,” Cialdella said. “They’re really showing that children can make a difference in the world.”



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