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St. John of the Cross students learn through giving

Sam Kehoe and Robb Shuttleworth talk to St. John of the Cross sixth-graders about the work they do at Helping Hand Center in Countryside.  |  Sandy Illian Bosch/Sun-Times Media
Sixth-grader Isabella Smith of Western Springs tries a pair of headphones used by instructors at Helping Hand Center in Countryside to help calm children who are sensitive to noise.  |  Sandy Illian Bosch/Sun-TImes Media

Advent is a time of preparation, and for students at St. John of the Cross School in Western Springs, preparing for Christmas means reaching out to make the world a little better for someone else.

Each year the entire school embarks on a service project. Past projects have included clothing drives for shelters in Chicago, but this year, parent organizer Colleen Heidkamp made a special effort to teach students about the needs close to home.

On Dec. 2 St. John of the Cross partnered with Helping Hands Center in Countryside and Beds Plus homeless shelter service of La Grange to show students from preschool through eighth grade how simple it can be to help someone else.

“I really learned a lot,” sixth-grader Amanda DeCesare of Western Springs said after hearing a presentation by two instructors at Helping Hand Center.

Sam Kehoe and Robb Shuttleworth work with children who have autism. They talked with the sixth-graders about their students and showed them the tools they use to help their students learn.

Isabella Smith of Western Springs tried on a pair of headphones used to help children with sensitivity to noise. Others played with stress balls that help to calm students in the Helping Hand classroom.

For sixth- and eighth-graders, their service project consisted of learning about children with autism.

Meanwhile, younger students embarked on projects meant to brighten the holidays for those in need.

Preschoolers made colorful holiday placemats that will adorn the tables at Beds Plus this Christmas. Kindergartners and first-graders made ornaments that will decorate wreaths and Christmas trees for 11 group homes owned by Helping Hand.

Second-graders made gardening kits for the Helping Hand Center’s gardening program, while third-graders packed up tube socks and T-shirts for people at Beds Plus. They included hand-decorated holiday cards in the packages.

In fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, children decorated cards to include in shaving kits for Beds Plus guests.

Heidkamp said the project was intended to show students that there are needs close to home, and that a small gesture can go far in filling those needs.

“I think it was a positive experience,” said Heidkamp, who overheard students talking about how much they learned about autism.

“That was good to hear,” she said.

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