Park Lane students become grateful, pledge to serve others
Park Lane Elementary students learn from motivational speaker Jessie Funk how grateful Ghana orphans are for clean water, food and school. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
When Jessie Funk was in high school, her mother said she was very self-focused.
“She was a good kid, but she’d focus on herself rather than finding a way to make others happier,” Park Lane teacher Linda Tognoni said.
Much of that has changed as Funk now leads 18-member student groups on humanitarian service trips, recently to the village of Cho, outside the capital city Accra of Ghana.
“Several of the teenagers I took are overcoming serious issues in their lives so this is a way I can pay it forward by helping these people in the village as well as these teens,” Funk said. “I can use my talents as a singer to help raise money to help the villagers and educate others about their plights so others will help.”
Through a PowerPoint presentation coupled with songs, Funk led the elementary school students to learn what life was like for the Ghana orphan students.
“They had one room in their school. The roof was made out of tree. Some had desks, but many sat on the dirt floor. The walls were painted like a chalkboard so they could write on the walls,” she said.
The 40 children slept in dormitory-style accommodations. While Funk was there, her group built a kitchen, brought a microwave and hooked up a cooling system. Then, they stocked it with groceries.
“Many of us are worried if we don’t have the right shoes or hairstyle, but these kids have real worries and are so grateful for what they have. They’re thankful for the chance to go to school and they’re so happy,” she said.
Funk said the orphanage and school began from one man named Francis. He had been an orphan since age eight and sought food from the garbage and slept in the streets until a German family sponsored him. They provided him with schooling, food and clothes and he eventually moved to the United States to learn nursing.
“After he became a nurse, what do you think he did?” Funk asked students. “He returned to his village and built an orphanage there with a place for those students to be taken care of and have schooling. He’s a real-life hero.”
Her humanitarian group took shoes for the orphans.
“The orphans don’t have shoes, but to go to school, they must have shoes. So it’s a big deal for them. When they walked in to where we had all the shoes spread out, they were so respectful. When we asked them which pair they wanted, they were so surprised they got to choose. Besides attending school, shoes help keep them safe from getting sores and germs which can spread through their whole bodies,” Funk said.
At the beginning and the ending of her presentation, Funk asked Park Lane students what they were grateful for in their lives. While some answers remained the same — family, homes and clothes — the early answers of sports and sledding changed to health, food and clean water.
Park Lane students then pledged to help others, whether it was to give donations of clothing, medical supplies, shoes and other items to those in the community or to a humanitarian trip or maybe it was just to be a bit kinder to fellow students at school or people in their community.
Fourth-grader Tinsley Smith said she learned that sometimes she asks for things she wants when they aren’t things she needs.
“I learned that I should be grateful for what I have instead of asking for more,” she said. “I have clean water and toilets and they just have a hole in the ground. I get to go to school and learn and that doesn’t just happen for those kids.”
Classmate Drake Parker said that he learned Americans, as a whole, are rich.
“We have a lot more like bikes, motorcycles and cars, so we’re wealthy since they don’t have any of that. I’m better off just by having my parents and the love they give,” he said.
Fourth-grader Bailey Angus said that she also learned to never give up, even if she fails a test.
“I can see what I have compared to them and I realize I should always try,” she said.
Teacher Angela Drake said that she hopes Funk’s presentation opened her students’ eyes.
“I hope they learned that even when hard things happen, they can still be grateful and happy for what they have,” she said. “We can learn to make ourselves happier by helping.”