Ahern: Beverly resident issues charity challenge to Southland students
By Patti Ahern Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2013 2:44PM
Beverly Resident Therese Connors recently asked St. John Fisher students to donate school supplies to students in Belize. Connors then traveled to Belize and stayed for 10 days, distributing supplies and helping at the school any way she could. | Supplied Photo
Updated: February 28, 2013 6:17AM
Beverly resident Therese Connors has a challenge for every Southland grade and high school student she can reach.
Connors wants students to work with her in finding gently used clothes, school supplies, shoes, baby equipment and various items that can be used in remote villages of other countries.
Connors has been traveling to help people in other countries for several years, and she believes she can reach more people if she can just have help from students throughout Chicago and the south suburbs.
“I’m throwing down the gauntlet,” Connors, who recently went on a trip to help children in Belize, said. “I am itching to go back, and I just envision a kind of ‘Hands Across the Caribbean.’ We can share our good fortune with others and we can increase awareness of those in need.”
The trip Connors took was to reach a small school on the island of San Pedro, just off the coast of Belize. Students there have very limited resources.
“The school I helped was San Pedro Catholic School, where there are about 900 kids,” Connors said. “It opened in ’63, and the school actually serves as a public school.
“They have so little. They have a library, but they can’t afford to have it open because they can’t afford a librarian. Dust and dogs are everywhere, and it’s so hot down there — so hot that they have to leave lights off. And fans don’t work either.”
For the trip to Belize, Connors turned to St. John Fisher School, asking students there to empty their desks of unwanted pens, pencils, spirals and other school supplies.
Connors then sorted through the donations with the help of Julia Gardella, 12, a sixth-grade student at Southeast Elementary School in Evergreen Park.
“There was a ton of stuff,” Gardella said. “I just helped sort things, but I thought it was very generous of the students to share what they could have kept and still use. I would help Mrs. Connors any time.”
St. John Fisher Principal Jean McGrath shared Gardella’s enthusiasm for helping Connors.
“Therese is always doing something for others,” McGrath said. “She is an amazing, amazing woman. These children have too little, and we were happy to help. They just had baskets full of stuff, and some of our students even went out and bought new things to donate.”
Connors stressed the importance of having the type of help offered by the students.
“Teachers in Belize would kill for such simple things as sticky notes,” Connors said. “They used to have a piece of plywood painted with chalkboard paint. Just recently, someone donated wipe-off boards, so now the challenge is to keep up with the supply of wipe-off markers.
“The schools need too much for their afterschool program. This sports program keeps the children off the streets and well-supervised, since their parents do not get home from their jobs until late.
“We would greatly use soccer shirts, shorts, balls and nets. They don’t care about names or colors on the shirts.”
Connors, who speaks Spanish and has a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, not only distributed supplies, but worked with the students, helping them in their classrooms and in general, doing anything she could for the 10 days she was there.
“I helped with lessons and did what I could,” Connors said. “The teachers there are generally not college grads, and they all have a second job. It’s just beautiful to work with these children and again, we can share our good fortune.
“People may say that I can reach out to poor children here in the U.S., and I can do that, but this is what I choose to do. I enjoy doing this because I enjoy the beauty of cultural diversity.”
Connors is no stranger to helping others. She is the owner of Little Flower Healthcare and provides health care workers to people who need assistance with bathing, meals, laundry and other tasks that a sick or elderly person may need.
In addition, Connors works as a translator for Hearts in Motion, an organization that provides medical care and treatment to people in South America.
Connors, who is in her early 60s, said she is interested in going back to Guatemala, Belize or anywhere that she can help others. She is eager to get students involved with her missions.
“I know schools are always looking for projects,” Connors said. “There is so much need, and not just school supplies. We need baby diapers for the orphanage and feeding center that Hearts in Motion supports, along with baby wipes, bibs or even sturdy toys. We also support a small nursing home and greatly appreciate adult diapers, wipes, wheelchairs and walkers.
“I’m happy to go to schools here, and share information for what San Pedro is like. I’d love to implement some kind of sister country or partnership between schools, or establish a give away closet. I just challenge high schools — all schools — to take this on.”
Those interested in having Connors present a slide show program on her work in other countries can contact her at www.littleflowerhealthcare.com or at (773) 238-0660.