Students at St. John’s Lutheran School learn to help others


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St. John’s Lutheran School of Dover set a $5,000 fundraising goal in 2014 to finance two wells in a village in Uganda. The school exceeded its goal and financed four new wells. More than 9,000 people now have access to fresh water. The school’s monetary donation is commemorated on a plaque on one of the wells. The effort is one of the many charitable projects that students at St. John’s Lutheran School have taken on to help those in need. (Submitted Photo/St. John’s Lutheran School)

DOVER — After 14 years of helping causes all over the country and world through fundraisers, St. John’s Lutheran School is at it again — this year raising money for an organization near and dear to the hearts of many of its students and families in the area: the United Service Organizations.

The USO is a national organization started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 75 years ago to assist servicemen, women and their families.

“We were looking for something to do local and had always been interested in doing something for the military, but it’s government-funded and most of what they need is already taken care of, and a lot of what isn’t is handled by large organizations” said principal Dr. Dina C. Vendetti.

“But I recently took a tour of the USO and was blown away and knew it was something worth putting our efforts toward.”

While the fundraising is under way, the kids have been learning about all the things the USO do for military families, such as sending care packages to deployed troops, assisting the families that stay behind and helping veterans to find jobs and adjust to civilian life.

“Our state is one of the smallest states to have a USO and our USO does at least twice as many events as the average ones,” eighth-grader James Duke said. “Last year they did 100 and the others only did an average of 50.”

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St. John’s Lutheran school and its principal, Dr. Dina Vendetti, celebrated last year’s fundraising effort by covering Dr. Vendetti in paint. (Delaware State News file)

Although the Delaware USO is quite active, it runs on limited resources.

“They’re able to do all those events and all that work with only three employees and 173 volunteers,” said fourth-grader Bryce Macolley.

Since starting the annual spring service project in 2002, St. John’s has raised nearly $65,000 for causes ranging from the Elizabeth W. Murphey School in Dover to a Lutheran School under construction in Uganda.

The Dover school, which teaches 65 students, grades pre-K through eight, places great pride not only in the annual service project but also the small projects it does throughout the school year.

“Part of the goal here at St. John’s Lutheran is to produce kids who turn out to be servant leaders in the community and good citizens,” Dr. Vendetti said. “And educational research shows that habits, morality and ethical behavior established between the ages of 2 and 9 can become a part of who they are as adults. And these kids are our future, so if they learn important lessons like service here, while they are young and impressionable, we will all be better off.”

The staff at St. John’s already is seeing the impact the emphasis on charity and service has made in the children, especially the big kids.

While most students do their part by asking for donations from their friends, families and fellow parishioners, sixth-grader Isabella Crowell has gotten more creative.

“For the few past years, instead of asking for presents for my birthday, I’ve asked for donations for the project,” she said. “I don’t really need ‘stuff.’ Donating to the project is better and more important than my friends and family buying stuff that’s going to lay around in my room most of the time.”

But the projects aren’t only about raising money and helping those in need. The children also learn about circumstances experienced by other kids, experiences unlike their own.

“A few years ago we did a project to benefit the Murphey School. And our kids were all about that project because it brought to light the idea that not every kid has parents or is able to be in a home with their parents,” Dr. Vendetti said. The Murphey School is a nonprofit group home for children whose parents aren’t able to care for them.

“I think some of them had never thought about that before because all the students here have been very blessed to grow up with their families and had parents and other family members always looking out for them.”

The students broke their fundraising record in 2014, raising $9,600 in another project for people very unlike themselves — residents of a rural village in Uganda.

“It’s such a good learning tool for the kids — to do something outside of themselves for others. Coming from the Christian background and values we are based on, it’s a calling to help those at home and around the world because they’re all our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Dr. Vendetti set a goal of $5,000 to finance two wells in the village for fresh drinking water but even when the goal was met, the donations kept rolling in. In the end, St. John’s raised enough to finance four wells which now provide nearly 9,000 people with fresh water daily.

Before the wells were installed, citizens of the village had to walk four miles to and from the closest source of clean water at least twice a day.

“For the kids here to learn that not everyone can just go to the water fountain for a drink of water — that people spend a quarter of their day just getting clean water — it’s an important lesson for them,” Dr. Vendetti said. “Kids are all about fairness and they realize the fact that they can get something so easily while it’s a struggle for others, they realize it’s not fair and something needs to be done about it.”

A few months after the well project was completed, St. John’s learned about plans for a Lutheran school in the same area, so the 2015 fundraiser targeted Uganda once again.

“We knew after the well project that there was no way we could watch them build a Lutheran school and not get involved,” Dr. Vendetti said.

And today, the Ugandan school is nearing completion and throughout the building process, St. John’s has received photos and updates from the project manager.

“I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that we are helping people so far away, but the kids can,” she said. “At such a young age they already realize that helping people is what we do.”

“I’ve learned that helping others, wherever they are is what God and Jesus want us to do,” said kindergartner Elizabeth Abbott. “And I like helping people all over.”

And she like the other students at St. John’s have learned about the USO while raising money. Elizabeth said one of the most interesting things she’s learned about the USO is the United Through Reading Program.

“Sometimes when the soldiers go away, when they’re deployed, the USO records them reading books and they can leave the video for their children to watch. So even though they’re gone, they still get to read to their kids if they have any,” Elizabeth said.

Aside from the usual USO services, the Delaware chapter has some more somber duties than others. The USO makes accommodations for families who come to Dover for the dignified transfer of their loved ones. The USO provides them with comfort and warm home-cooked meals during their stay.

St. John’s hopes that the community recognizes the importance of the Delaware USO and chooses to donate to the organization either through the school or on their own.

“The last two years our projects have just really taken on a life of their own and we hope the same happens this year,” Dr. Vendetti said.

“The annual service project just started off as something small but now, it has become a part of who we are.”

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