This holiday season, Riverside Elementary students are giving children in South Sudan the gift of learning.
The students, mostly second-graders and with the help of residents at Friendship Village of Dublin, recently prepared 50 bags filled with school supplies. Students also wrote notes to accompany the packages.
The project is an example of monthly service projects in which students partner with Friendship Village, said second-grade teacher Betsy Ramirez.
The ongoing partnership with Riverside helps residents connect with younger generations, said resident services director Beth Baker.
"I think that's valuable," she said.
The intergenerational programming also helps residents stay connected to Dublin City Schools and gain opportunities to learn about other cultures, Baker said.
In this case, the group partnered with title I math teacher Dawn Dugan and her husband, Troy, who together own a nonprofit called Operation Outreach.
Through that organization, the couple works with Stone International, an orphanage in South Sudan that houses about 250 kids.
Dawn Dugan said her husband began the organization 20 years ago when he was traveling overseas and wanted to help children he saw picking through trash.
Troy Dugan will deliver the supplies to South Sudan along with food, Dawn Dugan said. Although the children there have no school supplies, Dawn Dugan said the notes of encouragement are perhaps the most important part of the donations.
Dawn Dugan said she hopes the notes could start a pen-pal correspondence between the Riverside students and those in South Sudan.
"The kids are so appreciative of anything that we've done," she said.
Ramirez's second-grade students participated in the project, as well as students in the school with family in Kenya and South Sudan.
Ramirez said she used extra supplies that she had purchased for her Riverside students for the project and began collecting supplies in the fall. Friendship Village also purchased supplies as well.
To prepare the supply bags, students Nov. 27 walked over to Friendship Village at 6000 Riverside Drive to assemble the bags with the help of five or six residents, Ramirez said.
Bella Topetzes, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, participated in the project at the suggestion of Dawn Dugan, her former teacher to whom she has remained close.
In her note, Topetzes said, she told the children that God is looking over them and making sure they are OK.
Topetzes said giving the supplies to the children can bring them joy and let them know they aren't alone.
"We just wanted to give them something nice that they can have," she said.