Friday, May 20, 2016
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
CORAL SPRINGS | Lead in the water. Relatives in Flint.
“Sometimes we just can’t sit by and watch,” said Principal Kristen Hughes of St. Andrew School in Coral Springs.
She had been reading about the crisis in the water supply of the Michigan city which her mother’s relatives call home.
Since 2014, they had been turning on their taps and seeing a cider-like liquid pour out. The state had switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River for financial reasons. Residents remembered that the Flint River had been a repository for sewage and industrial waste from the auto industry.
Compounding the problem: The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was not treating the water with an anti-corrosive, so as it flowed, it was actually breaking down the lead and iron in people’s plumbing. The result: lead in the water. Illness and intoxication for those drinking it, particularly children.
“A problem like this tugs at my heart strings anyway because having an irreversible neurotoxin like lead in water and the effects of it are horrible, especially on small children,” said Hughes. “Having cousins and other relatives there that live in the area is also terrible. I kept thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a lifelong problem for these families and these children, whether I know them or not.’”
Exposure to lead affects the heart, kidneys and nervous system of people of all ages; at very high levels it can be fatal. Although the condition is medically treatable when caught early, no one can predict the long-term effects.
Remembering her time as a child in Flint, Hughes looked up the school she had attended, St. John Vianney. It still existed. So she reached out to its principal, Lara Daniel, to ask how she could help.
It turns out concerned citizens from near and far had also reached out to Daniel.
“God bless them, they’re bringing water for them to cook,” said Hughes. “She said they’re bringing in huge pots and containers. They have had donations of bottled water. They’re being careful and cautious about that.”
“Our children and teachers have done a great job focusing on school despite all of the disturbances this crisis creates,” said Daniel in a January letter to those interested in helping.
But Daniel knew that short term solutions, such as individual water bottles for students and staff, would only be temporary. Long term, she suggested donations that would go toward paying $30 a week for a water delivery service; or a water-pumping station that would cost $5,000, plus $1,000 to install, and a monthly expense for filters.
Hughes chose the water-pumping station.
“Their hope is that having this pumping station they will be able to have clean water for everyone at the school and the parish,” said Hughes. “They’re working alongside Catholic Charities to do some projects in tandem so that whatever they’re able to do at the parish they will be able to share with others in the surrounding areas.”
Hughes started spreading the word among faculty and staff at St. Andrew School. She also discussed the idea with St. Andrew’s pastor, Msgr. Michael Souckar. Above all, she wanted students to put on their thinking caps and get involved. She said she was amazed by their immediate and enthusiastic response.
A Lenten intention prayer wall went up in the school praying for the people of Michigan. Students, faculty and the community thought of myriad ways to raise funds: a read-a-thon, a bake sale, dress-down days, crazy-sock days, even a raffle for a seven-day Caribbean cruise.
“They care so much, and quite frankly there are families here that are struggling and they could probably use just as much help as we’re trying to help others with, but I know that our students know the value of giving and trying to help whomever they can,” Hughes said.
Other archdiocesan schools, including Little Flower and Nativity in Hollywood, St. Coleman in Pompano Beach, St. Bonaventure in Davie, All Saints in Sunrise, St. Ambrose in Deerfield Beach, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Fort Lauderdale, and Mary Help of Christians in Parkland also got involved in the project.
By the end of April, their combined efforts raised over $10,000 for St. John Vianney School, far exceeding the $6,000 goal. It was a good display of putting faith into action during this Year of Mercy.
“The lessons, while they may not be scripted or expected, are spectacular,” said Hughes. “In a Catholic school, where we are called to do more than just consume and learn and get something, we’re emphasizing to these students to give something. Give your time, give your expertise, give your brain power, give your efforts to whatever efforts we’re working on…
“Especially with the Year of Mercy in our religion classes, (we) have made that a priority. And we do of course want our children to know and practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Here we have it in action.”