Students

Hoosac Valley Middle School students show off posters they made for a donation drive that seeks to help animals displaced by tornadoes in Kentucky. Teachers Zach Houle and Jennifer Kline serve as co-advisers for the student council.

CHESHIRE — Empathy is one of the five guiding principles for the Hoosac Valley Regional School District — and yes, that applies to animals, too.

Since deadly tornadoes hit Kentucky in December, Hoosac Valley students and their families have donated 771 items of pet food and cat litter for displaced animals at the Mayfield-Graves County Animal Shelter in Mayfield, Ky.

“It’s not just what’s in your backyard,” said Kathy Hynes, founder and president of Got Spots Etc., an animal rescue nonprofit. “There’s other things in the world that you need to take an interest in helping, and the kids did. They went global, not just local.”

Hynes, a registered nurse who goes by the nickname “Skippy,” has plenty of experience with disaster assistance. During Hurricane Katrina, she said, “by day, I was Hurricane Katrina nurse, and by night, I was emergency animal relief services.” With Got Spots, she has put together donation drives after hurricanes struck in Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Now, working as a substitute teacher for Taconic High School and the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, Hynes brought the idea of a donation drive for Kentucky animals to Hoosac Valley Middle School. It didn’t take much convincing to get students on board.

“At our student council meeting, we were brainstorming some ideas on how to help out our local community, and those students had heard about Kathy’s organization and what they were doing,” said Jennifer Kline, a middle school teacher and co-adviser of the student council along with Zach Houle. “They were immediately excited about reaching out to what they call their extended community and thought it would be something that our middle school would enjoy doing.”

Hynes saw an opportunity to help students develop their artistic and literary skills as well. Middle school students created posters to publicize the drive, and high school students made news releases.

Also, businesses in the community donated prizes for students who made the best posters and releases. Angelina’s Subs, Berkshire Outfitters and Hobby World participated, Hynes said.

After Got Spots finishes collecting donations in early March, a volunteer will drive the donated goods to the Mayfield-Graves County Animal Shelter. Adams Hometown Market has set up a cart in the store for people to drop off pet food and cat litter to donate, Hynes said.

“We would like to have enough donations to safely fill the Honda Odyssey,” Hynes said.

Smith Brothers-McAndrews Insurance has donated to help cover gas for the driver, although Got Spots continues to seek donations to cover gas and food costs for the trip. Berkshire Health Systems donated blankets and towels for the animals.

Hynes, who is working to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, said that beyond animal rescue, Got Spots seeks to “promote optimal wellness through the human animal bond.” She has vouched for dogs’ ability to help people cope with trauma.

Once the donations get to Kentucky, students will have a chance to get on a Zoom call with the shelter and its staff. The shelter took in at least 140 animals displaced by the tornadoes.

“The students will get to see the positive impact that they’re having, Kline said. “Going a little bit further than just reaching out to our local community, I think the students were very excited to do that. ... I feel that it’s a great example of how we can show empathy towards others, and students can really relate because many of them have pets themselves.”

The student council has begun discussing ways to participate in a more local community service project. Students are planning to reach out to Louison House and ask about needs for a clothing drive, Kline said.

“We’re super proud of our students,” Kline said. “We’re a small little community here, and to be able to impact is such an important thing for us.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.