Local union members around the state are dreaming up creative ways to raise funds and send support to students, educators and families in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
At Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, teacher Jane Amorosi and teaching assistant Mary Moyles organized a fun "Pennies for Puerto Rico" event. The Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employees Association recruited eight staff members and a student to grow beards during the month of January.
Students and staff voted for different beard styles by dropping loose change into jars labeled with photos depicting bearded faces. Whichever jar had the most money determined which beard style these men would get — mutton chops won.
Local barber Mike Rabbit of Main Street Barber donated his time — and students and staff paid $1 each to watch the razor-sharp trimming. The effort raised nearly $600 for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund.
"This experience was a great community activity within our BOCES as well as a collaborative effort with NYSUT," said Amorosi, a science teacher at the F. Donald Myers Education Center. "It reinforced social skills that students work on regularly, such as communicating appropriately, giving of their own time and demonstrating empathy and compassion for others."
NYSUT First Vice President/Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham, who oversees the statewide union's social justice efforts, said SABEA's effort is one of many creative fundraisers organized by local unions around the state to help families and communities still reeling from last fall's Hurricane Maria.
As of mid-February, NYSUT's Disaster Relief Fund received more than $122,000 in donations and disbursed funding to the American Red Cross, Americares and Operation Agua. Future funding will include solar chargers.
In the North Country, each of the 18 districts in St. Lawrence County — home of the NYSUT- and AFT-backed People Project — is developing ideas to help Puerto Rico, said Erin Covell, president of the Massena Federation of Teachers. She is working with former student Carlie Leary on projects to raise funds and spirits. One district plans a letter-writing effort for students to send warm wishes to their peers on the island.
The Massena FT will host dress down days through the end of the school year with proceeds going to Operation Agua, a program that brings water purification systems to Puerto Rican families and communities. Several other local unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, Rochester TA and Wayland-Cohocton TA, are raising funds for the program.
Wayland-Cohocton TA President Lesley Doupe said her district got involved after foreign language teachers started an International Club to help students learn more about different cultures.
"We are in a rural district so this helps students broaden their knowledge outside their small world," Doupe said. After the devastating hurricane, students researched ways to help and decided to raise funds for Operation Agua. The union was happy to make a contribution to help the club reach its goal, Doupe said.
In Saranac Lake, Spanish teacher Lisa Kollmer, a building representative for the SLTA, put a fun — and educational — twist on an emergency supply collection drive. Her middle school students made a video — in Spanish — explaining the most-needed items, from toothpaste to baby wipes. After the students recorded in front of a green screen, the video was finished with scenes of the devastated island. To see the video, visit http://bit.ly/2ozysEP. Other fundraising efforts around the state included a lip-sync battle between teams of teachers at PS 170 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, that raised several thousand dollars, and an effort in the Bronx that received a thumbs-up retweet from award-winning playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Marybeth Whitehouse, a teacher at JHS 98, attracted Miranda's attention when she posted a photo of her students who collected hundreds of dollars in mostly pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.
Whitehouse, a UFT member, has made community service projects a major part of enrichment periods. Students did extensive research on Puerto Rico, creating a fact sheet and decorating buckets with the Puerto Rican flag.
Students also wrote about the experience, including one who wrote, "even when the government does nothing, we the people can still do something."
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The need is great, with thousands in Puerto Rico still without electricity, water and basic necessities. Visit www.nysut.org/disasterrelief to donate online, or make your check payable to NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund and mail to NYSUT Headquarters, Attn. Disaster Relief, 800 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, NY 12110.