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Everyday Evangelists: Students’ letters lift spirits of parishioners

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

By David Eck

DAYTON DEANERY — Every month or so during the last two school years, Martha Piker knew she was in for a treat when the distinctive package arrived in her mailbox.

Inside the large envelope were more than a dozen brightly colored letters on construction paper from Nancy Wing’s third-grade class at St. Helen School in Dayton. The students asked how Piker, who is 83 and confined to a wheelchair, and her dog, Bitzi, were doing. The students let Piker know they were thinking of her. They also kept her updated on their class activities.

Adam Saunders visits with St. Helen parishioner Martha Piker
Adam Saunders visits with St. Helen parishioner Martha Piker. Saunders was part of the third-grade class at St. Helen School that wrote letters to Piker over the course of the school year. (Courtesy photo)

“I enjoyed [the letters] and I always would write back,” said Piker, who has been a member of St. Helen Parish since 1954. “They were such fun. I’d get this distinct brown envelope, and I’d know what it was.”

Piker sent the students photos of her dog that the class would post in their room. The students always looked forward to hearing from her.

As the end of the 2009-10 school year approached, the class sent Piker a final batch of letters. One particular note touched the elderly lady’s heart.

“I’m going to miss you,” wrote nine-year-old Adam Saunders. “In the fourth grade I will always remember you and Bitzi. Don’t feel lonely over the summer.”

Piker was impressed that the boy was concerned her being lonely.

“It just about knocked me out,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe that a child would write something like that.”

Saunders said the project taught him that simple things can have a big impact. He’s grateful that Piker enjoyed his note.

“I wanted to tell her that since [she] can’t get out of her house easily the letter [could] comfort her,” Saunders said. “It made me feel so happy inside.”

Mary Heider, pastoral associate for liturgy and adult ministries at St. Helen, brought the idea for the letter-writing effort to the school faculty as a way to help students become aware of the different aspects of stewardship while at the same time helping someone.

“Kids don’t necessarily think of what they can do. It’s through their innocence and natural telling of stories that they bring so much delight,” Heider said. “For the younger children, it’s something that’s fun for them. When the recipient writes back, that makes them feel they have a new friend as well.”

In a similar project, Chrissy Buschur’s fourth-grade classes at St. Helen have been writing to parishioner Mary Havens this year. They wrote to parishioner Joann Myers during the 2008-09 school year.

A former St. Helen School student and veteran teacher at the school, Wing said her classes tried to make sure they sent a package of letters around each holiday.

The project was a strong teaching tool and enabled the students to put the concept of service into action, she said.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Wing said. “I guess I didn’t realize how many people are lonely and how a thing like a simple card means so much. I think students get a sense of realizing their words can make someone really happy.”

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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