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Help for Haiti - Bulloch students give and learn
W Haiti 7
Students collect donations at Mill Creek Elementary that will be donated to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. - photo by HAYLEY GREENE/special
      “You can learn from textbooks, but you can also learn a great deal by what’s happening around you,” said Sandra Smith, a teacher at Mill Creek Elementary.  
      You won’t find much about Haiti in the textbooks within Bulloch County’s schools, but walk the halls and students can tell you plenty about the earthquake-ravaged country:
      They know how to find it on a map. They’ve measured its distance from Statesboro in math class. And seniors now have chosen it as the topic for their senior research projects. Teachers have woven the theme into English classes, where students learned to write persuasively by soliciting help for Haiti and Ms. Stacy Dinello’s students learned about acrostics using the word Haiti.
      Students and adults alike now know how Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere was devastated by two earthquakes. Touched by media images, many in Bulloch schools immediately began seeking ways to help.  
      “It was the biggest pull on my heart that I’ve ever felt,” said Southeast Bulloch Middle School sixth grader Kera Olsen. “I said to myself, ‘Those people are going to get some help.’”
      So, she took that determination to her local church, where she boldly stood and told members just how she wanted to help. Motivated by her words, members responded with monetary donations and supplies, some of which were by the truckload, and all going to support a local relief effort called “Fresh Start Bags.” That effort was co-founded by Claudia Batichon, guardian of another SEB Middle sixth grader, Karen Batichon, who is her husband’s little sister.
      “I’m glad Karen and the other students are seeing things happen,” said Batichon, who was born in Haiti. “They’ll be able to look back one day, see that Haiti has recovered, and know that they had a special part in helping.”
      Fresh Start Bags is a grassroots relief effort started by Batichon, Pastor Travis Ivey of Abundant Life Church and Cheri Lance, a Brooklet business owner. Their goal is to gather enough basic hygiene supplies for men, women and infants to make 100,000 bags to distribute in Haiti.
      Batichon also has rallied support from Bulloch Academy students, while Lance focused on the public schools.  
“The support from all the schools has been amazing,” Batichon said.
      Claudia and her husband Hans, also a native of Haiti, and members of the Abundant Life Church are planning a trip to Haiti to personally deliver the bags.
      “Once I found out about the earthquake, I knew I wanted to do something,” said Lance, owner of the Brooklet Flower Basket. “I just didn’t want to send in $10 and be done - I wanted to do something.
      “When I went to work and saw Claudia Batichon’s picture on the front page of the Statesboro Herald, and read her story, I had my answer,” Lance said.  
      She picked up the phone, called Batichon, a complete stranger to her, and they arranged to meet in Lance’s shop along with Pastor Ivey.  From that meeting Fresh Start Bags began. Supporters or volunteers can contact the church, stop by Lance’s shop, or visit Fresh Start’s Facebook page for more information.
      Lance is an active volunteer, who serves as president of the Stilson Elementary School PTO. She contacted the school’s principal, Eileen Bayens, who immediately got students and parents involved. They soon added support from Nevils Elementary.
      Haiti is more than 1,100 miles southeast of Statesboro, but the earthquake’s impact is still felt locally.
      While not teaching at Mill Creek, Smith has been a summer missionary to Haiti since 1980. Her husband Randy Smith is a local doctor who will lead a medical team that leaves for Haiti Feb. 27.  
      The team won’t leave empty handed thanks to Mill Creek parents who answered the school’s call and donated enough supplies to fill 20 footlocker trunks. The school also raised $557 for Abundant Life Church’s mission team. Other schools like Langston Chapel Elementary, Brooklet Elementary, and Southeast Bulloch Middle have held unique penny fundraisers such as “Lifesavers for Haiti,” “Hats for Haiti, and “Coins for Haiti Children,” that have raised nearly $2,500 for the American Red Cross.
“Projects like this help our students see how fortunate they really are,” Smith said
      She said she carries student letters, drawings or school yearbooks from Mill Creek each summer to her Haitian students at the Village of Hope School in Ganthier, eight miles from Port-au-Prince.
      “We’d love to be pen pals, but Haiti does not have a mail system,” Smith said.  
Smith said the school was only slightly damaged in the earthquake, but early reports indicate some students and at least one teacher were killed.
      Hudak Hendrix’s Statesboro High social studies class calls it cultural diffusion - How one nation’s events affect your country.  
In elementary school halls the Character Word of the Day was “Kindness,” meaning to be warm-hearted, humane, or sympathetic.  
In Bulloch County; however, Batichon said students and adults have seen these words leave the page and put into action.

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