Millions of Americans have chipped in, sending checks to help the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In Charlottesville, a group of 4th graders found another way to assist as Sandy Hausman reports.
When McKenzie Inigo, a fourth grade teacher at St. Anne’s-Belfield School saw pictures of hurricane victims in shelters, she saw an opportunity to teach about empathy, and when the school’s librarian told her about a website called the Hurricane Harvey Book Club, she was in.
“I was really enthusiastic about it," she recalled. "One of the things I like to do most is to get my students engaged with a real audience and for them to feel like they’re making a difference in the world.”
The electronic book club let people record their favorite stories, then upload them to the site. Ellie Robertson and Ethan Kesser were thrilled to share with the kids of Houston.
“If I were them, I would want to be doing something, seeing something, hearing something, imagining something," Kesser explained.
“We didn’t want them to be so sad in the shelter, just hearing the storm,” said Robertson.
“I would like to be laughing in those harder times,” Kesser added.
Milo Scott knew how much reading could help.
“Reading makes me feel really good. It takes my mind off things," he said.
And Chapin Smith figured that in some places, books were in short supply.
“A lot of libraries were kind of ruined, because books are paper, and they don’t really stand up to water,” she explained.
So they picked funny, heart-warming stories like The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog.
“I’ve never had a hotdog before," Robertson read. "What do they taste like? Well they are a taste sensation. Each morsel is a joy – a celebration in a bun.”
Ginny Rowe went with Pig Kahuna, the story of "these pigs who go to the beach. They hate the water, but then they learn how to surf.”
Sebastian Laza favored We Are In a Book.
“Piggy. Yes Gerald?" he read. "I think someone is looking at us. Who is looking at us? A monster? No, it is a reader. We are in a book. That’s so cool!”
And Ashton Kilfoil chose a twist on the old classic: The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.
Librarian Sarah Fitzhenry hears those videos are a hit in Houston – in schools that have lost their libraries, on personal computers and phones.
“I love teaching technology, and I love seeing the technology being used in a meaningful way to help other people," she said. "I love seeing them understanding that stories can bridge the gap with people they’ve never met, people living very different lives, but the empathy piece just gets me every time. It never gets old.”
And teacher McKenzie Inigo said her students have grown from the experience.
“It’s empowering too to be so young and figure out that you can make a difference in somebody’s life from right where you are with whatever you have, you have the power to create change and make a difference.”
As word has spread, kids in other grades hope to get in on the act perhaps to provide story-reading services to the victims of Hurricane Irma.