Helping hands get an early start at Guelph schools

  • February 10, 2024

Ongoing social justice initiatives by students from Guelph, Ont.’s St. John Catholic School are helping those in need in their community. 

What began in 2021 as a project known as Healthy Heels, two classes from St. John collected upwards of 500 socks to donate to the homeless, in collaboration with Royal City Mission. From there, Grade 3/4 teacher Tyler Parkinson launched another wellness initiative with Holy Trinity Catholic School to collect backpacks filled with clothing necessities.  

Having seen all of the good that students at St. John had been doing, Grade 3 teacher Alijha Girgis-Tweedle wanted to find a way to go above and beyond for the community. 

“We wanted to challenge ourselves, our students and our school community, so in September we decided to run a yarn drive and just start making hats for those who needed them,” Girgis-Tweedle said. 

“We taught the kids how to knit using a YouTube video,” Girgis-Tweedle recalled with a laugh. “The interest was there from the community, other faculty and staff members, and next thing I knew other classes were knitting, both students and teachers.” 

Parkinson said the school’s partnership with Holy Trinity is still strong and that both schools are gaining forces and using each other’s resources to provide as much help to the community as possible. 

“We made handmade hats and scarves with our school community and Holy Trinity ran a donation drive. Together we had over 500 items that we were able to bag up and donate to Royal City Mission a few weeks ago,” he said. 

Desmond Loughran, a fourth-grader from St. John, said he and his classmates are gaining a sense of compassion by being able to help out. 

“I’d say that I feel happy doing this because I know it makes other people feel happy and that makes me feel good as a result,” Desmond said. 

Third-grader Jackson Howe said his motivation is not wanting anybody to suffer during the colder winter months.

The initiative has changed since its humble inception of providing socks to those in need, with a new name thought up by the 3/4 class: Wild Hurricane Hearts, a combination of the two schools’ identities.

“They wrote Wild Hurricane Hearts on all the bags because our school is the St. John Wildcats and Holy Trinity are the Holy Trinity Hurricanes, so we have our own little branding moving forward now,” Parkinson said. 

While 210 hand-knitted hats and scarves as part of over 500 total donated items would be impressive on its own, it is the collective effort of the students that makes Parkinson so proud. 

“The fact that they learned how to do this knitting, that on packing day they were very independent, the night we brought everything to Royal City Mission we had kids baking at the dinner meal that they helped raise money for,” he said. “The collective efforts that the kids put in… they won’t even know how far their reach was that day.” 

Girgis-Tweedle said this is the behaviour the schools hope to instill in students, and for them to be able to take it head-on at such a young age has been incredible to see. 

“The initiative is creating more altruistic leaders and that’s really what we’re trying to do. We are always driving home to the students that their job is to lead others and to do things that are good for other people and the community,” she said.

As for the future, the students look to hone their knitting skills, with a knitting club recently taking shape where students can keep crafting donation items during recess breaks. Next year, Girgis-Tweedle hinted that handmade socks might be the next venture for the Wild Hurricane Hearts. 

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