Program links city, suburbs - Catholic Courier

Program links city, suburbs

Several members of St. Patrick’s Parish in Victor have been busy lately, working hard to ensure that students from one of Rochester’s public schools will be warm when winter’s bitter cold and snow arrive later this year. Using yarn donated to Buddies, Bridges and Brains, the volunteers recently began making scarves, hats and mittens for students at Rochester City School No. 22, also known as Lincoln School.

Two years ago, St. Patrick’s parishioner Karen Guidarelli was looking for a way to become more involved with urban children. Her family — which includes seven children — had recently moved to Victor from Chicago, and although she loved her new home she missed the urban setting and the daily interactions she previously had with city children.

The solution to her problem came in the form of Buddies, Bridges and Brains, a not-for-profit organization she founded in 2002 as an effort to link Victor and Farmington with one very poor urban school in Rochester.

The organization is a grassroots effort dedicated to improving the quality of urban education. Guidarelli said she chose School No. 22 because of its high poverty rate, consistently poor scores on standardized tests and lack of support from local businesses. At School No. 22, 98.6 percent of the students qualify for a free lunch, so many that "they don’t even bother with a cash drawer in their cafeteria," she said.

After doing some research, Guidarelli discovered the school had a very small library budget — the 2003-04 school year library budget was only $3 per student, she said. She decided the organization’s first project should be a book drive, through which more than 10,000 books were collected for the school’s library.

During the 2003-04 school year, the organization distributed books and blank audio-cassette tapes to local volunteers, who then recorded themselves reading the books aloud. At the completion of that project, Buddies, Bridges and Brains presented the city school’s library with 200 books on tape.

"It was really cheap too. (And) it didn’t require a monstrous time donation from people," she said, noting the project was something volunteers could pick away at in their spare time.

Through the organization, St. Patrick’s Parish donated to the library 100 small, cassette-tape players that cost about $5 apiece, Guidarelli added.

The organization’s latest project is also inexpensive and easy for volunteers to participate in. After 200 skeins of yarn were donated to the organization, Guidarelli ran a notice in the parish bulletin asking for volunteers willing to put their knitting and crocheting expertise to work. Those who were interested could pick up the yarn from the parish office, work on the project at their own pace and drop off the finished product later in the summer or fall, she said.

"One of the things we realized along the way is that … kids were coming to school in the winter without socks, scarves, hats and mittens, and with a lot of frostbite," Guidarelli said, noting that as of mid-July, seven women had contacted St. Patrick’s to offer their time and talent.

Relationship-building is another component of the work done by Buddies, Bridges and Brains. The organization links the city school not only with Victor and Farmington’s civic communities, but the school community as well.

Each year, students at School No. 22 and at the Victor public schools participate together in a reading project. Through this project, students from one school read the same book as students from their grade in the other school, exchanging letters and pictures about the books throughout the school year. At the end of the project, the students from each grade level get together for a field trip relevant to the book they read.

Students in fourth through sixth grades at Victor Intermediate School designed their own magazine-recycling program to help students at School No. 22, whose library has no magazines. The Victor students receive the weekly magazine Time for Kids, and would throw issues away after using them in class. The students thought this was wasteful and instead decided to send the magazines to School No. 22’s library, where they are eagerly read and used as incentives by teachers, Guidarelli said.

The entire Victor community has become involved in the organization’s efforts, with the board of Buddies, Bridges and Brains made up of representatives from the area’s church, civic and business communities, she said. The Victor Central School District has donated extra dictionaries to a community center across the street from School No. 22, and doctors and dentists have volunteered their services.

"This project has really been quite amazing to watch unfold," said Guidarelli, who said she is pleased with the organization’s work so far. "Everyone has taken a piece, and I think it’s precisely the way that we’ll have urban-school change. It has turned out to be very much aligned with the purpose of my life. I think it is exactly what God wanted me to do."

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