LENOX — This spring's global service project, promoted by Lenox Memorial Middle and High School's S.A.V.E. group, surely left everyone's head spinning.
As part of Spirit Week, March 14-18, the Students as Voices for Empowerment Club challenged the school to make paper pinwheels, knowing that each one made would amount to a $2 donation toward helping youth bystanders of the Syrian refugee crisis.
The call to action led to some friendly competition between grades, and ultimately to the creation of nearly 16,000 pinwheels for a donation of close to $32,000.
"We were amazed," said sophomore S.A.V.E. member Nick Monteleone, who donned a pinwheel-covered shirt to grab his peers' attention, while talking about the crisis and the cause at the Spirit Week kick-off rally.
Curiosity about taking up the cause grew in the social studies courses that the S.A.V.E. members attended. "Syria would come up a lot in class," said Peggy Yee, also a sophomore.
Through some research, the S.A.V.E. group came across Students Rebuild Healing Classrooms, supported by the International Rescue Committee, and with financial matching for the pinwheel project from the Bezos Family Foundation.
The latter organization was founded by Jake and Mike Bezos — the parents of Amazon's Jeff Bezos — and will donate up to $400,000 to the cause. According to the Healing Classrooms Challenge webpage, partners have until April 30 to make the 50,000 pinwheels needed to reach that maximum donation goal.
Why pinwheels? According to a description on the program's website, "Pinwheels are simple, fun toys found all over the world ... We believe that this popular, functional device is a wonderful way to send wishes of joy, freedom and a happy childhood to youth living amid conflict."
According to the International Rescue Committee, since the civil war began, nearly 11 million Syrians have fled their homes, affecting some 6 million children. More than 4 million refugees are resettling in neighboring countries of Lebanon, Northern Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.
"On average, it takes 17 years for most refugees to return home," the webpage states. "This means millions of Syrian children will likely spend most — or all — of their childhood as refugees."
Since first rising to the response to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Students Rebuild has been mobilizing thousands of young people across 83 countries to help others during times of global crisis through different challenges.
Previously through the organization, Lenox students have made paper beads to raise matching funds that supported clean water projects throughout Tanzania.
Lenox Assistant Principal Brian Cogswell said Spirit Week also yielded efforts to help local people in need, noting that the school brought in enough toiletries and personal care products to donate 72 care packages to people who are homeless.
S.A.V.E. adviser Lisa Wespiser, an English teacher, said these projects help her students get a bigger sense of the world and how they can have a positive impact in it.
Healing Classrooms are established in partner settlement areas where teachers are trained to work with traumatized students and create secure, nurturing learning environments to help youths regain a sense of normalcy, routine and empowerment, even amid crisis. A portion of the donated pinwheels will be delivered to Healing Classrooms in Lebanon and Iraq.
"If they don't have an education now, even though they're in crisis, what are they going to do when they actually get to a place and move and settle? I hope we've helped them begin to have a future," said freshman Christina Heisecke.
"Everyone deserves an education and stability in life," said Lenox ninth grader, Paige Looney.
She helped rally a group of other freshmen girls to make pinwheels in their spare time — before school, after school, in the library, and yes, sometimes even during class, using everything from a found home supply of origami paper to old pages of Latin homework.
Together, their efforts yielded thousands of pinwheels. Her class made a total of 6,600, leading just over the sixth grade class, which came in second with a total of 6,200.
"In some ways, it was effortless," said freshman Liat Friedman. "But while making them, we were making a difference."
Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.
• According to UNICEF, 7.5 million Syrian children are in need of humanitarian aid, with 2.6 million no longer attending school.
• The Syrian Center for Policy Research states that 11.5 percent of the entire Syrian population has been injured or killed since the war began in 2011, with many of the victims dying due to lack of health care, nutrition, poor sanitation and disease.
• To learn more about the pinwheel challenge and Healing Classrooms, visit http://studentsrebuild.org.
• Watch these videos to get a sense of what children go through and how Healing Classrooms work:
"Visit Healing Classrooms" by Students Rebuild: https://youtu.be/Tkr3jW-Jv5I
"Lenox Pinwheel Project," see what the project looked like in the school: www.lenoxps.org/lmmhs/2016/04/08/pinwheel-project-video