Aikahi Elementary School teacher Barbara Romig and her first-graders are taking part in the "Adopt-A-Family" program.

Aikahi students work for
season of sharing with poor

If Barbara Romig's first-graders at Aikahi Elementary School have learned one lesson well, it's that helping others is good to do year-round, not only at Christmas.

Giving presents to a needy family under the Community Clearinghouse's seasonal "Adopt-A-Family" program is an extension of their lesson, recited in chorus every day: "When I care about others, it makes the world a better place."

"From day one we are talking about mutual respect," Romig said. "The theme of respect permeates the classroom. ... You see children helping each other all the time at Aikahi."

Romig's first-grade class is one of 28 classes, from kindergarten to sixth grade, that has adopted a family at Christmas for the past five years, according to Gay Jennings, the parent-school-community coordinator who initiated the project at the Kailua school. She distributes laundry baskets to each class for collecting items their particular families need, but the baskets provide barely enough space for two weeks of collections.

Most of the teachers incorporate the Adopt-A-Family program, administered by Helping Hands Hawaii, into their curriculum, Jennings said. Through their participation, children learn to be "giving and caring," and discuss what it would be like to be poor or homeless, she said.

When everything is collected -- they are trying for Friday -- all the children are assembled for a sing-a-long, where all baskets and overflowing items are gathered on stage.

The children "see what they've done. ... They are thrilled!" Jennings said.

At the beginning of the project, Romig's class talked about being poor. After one day, their class basket was almost full.

Jennifer Popp said she wanted to contribute "so the family wouldn't be as poor as they were before."

In sharing the details about the family they adopted, except for their real names, Romig told the children that the mother and father had no wishes for themselves, but asked for school supplies for their children and educational toys. Their 5-year-old was embarrassed to go to school without any supplies.

Romig posed the question, "How would you feel?"

A couple of students said they would be "real sad."

Then a student asked if any of the family's other children were embarrassed about not having supplies.

"That's a good question," Romig said, "Let me see. Oh, yes, a teacher sent the 7-year-old home with a note asking that he bring in school supplies. What would you do if you were the teacher and knew the family was poor?" she asked.

Jake Swenson answered, "I would buy him school supplies."

To help a family in need, call Adopt-A-Family at 440-3804 or take donations to the Community Clearinghouse at 2100 North Nimitz Highway. Call Helping Hands Hawaii for more information at 536-7234.


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