In summer 2012, about two dozen Catholic high school students and their adult chaperones traveled into the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia.
|Justiceworx students traveled to Dunlow, W.Va., last summer. Courtesy photo
The volunteers were affiliated with Justiceworx, an independent Catholic organization based in New Jersey that enables high school students to put their faith into action through service projects (see sidebar).
This particular group was heading to the Dunlow Elementary School in rural Wayne County where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty level.
Dunlow’s principal, Chanda Perry, had sent out an appeal for a work crew. Her school needed a paint job and some landscaping, particularly the removal of overgrown shrubs, but there was no money in the school’s budget for such improvements.
The Justiceworx crew spent a week at Dunlow, and during that time they got to know Perry and her school very well. Dunlow Elementary includes students from prekindergarten through fifth grade. Approximately 100 children attend Dunlow, 90 percent of them come from families who are struggling financially. One of the chaperones, Mike McDonald, asked Perry if she could have anything she wanted for her school, what would it be?
|For More Information
Justiceworx’s mission is to teach high school students about the connection between the Faith and the Gospel call to service and justice.
To learn more about Justiceworx, visit www.justiceworx.org
or write to Justiceworx, 24 Rossa Ave., Lawrenceville, N.J., 08648, or call 609-498-6216.
Without hesitating, she replied, “We need a library.”
Dunlow had a school library once, but when the need arose for an autism classroom, the books were put on carts and rolled into the multi-purpose room, which is used for remedial programs, art, music and gym. The back wall where the carts of books stand is the school’s “library.”
In a recent phone interview, Perry told Our Sunday Visitor that “with all the madness going on in there,” it is hard to read, let alone concentrate and study. As a result, she said, “the kids don’t take interest in the ‘library’ as it is.”
Raising the funds
When the Justiceworx volunteers returned to New Jersey, several of them, led by McDonald, came together to find a way to raise the money necessary to purchase a modular building that could serve as Dunlow’s library.
“Mike has been a godsend to us,” Perry said. “He took control.”
McDonald and his team based their estimate for the project on a double-wide modular building measuring 24 feet by 36 feet. They set a goal of $40,000, an amount that would cover everything from preparing the site to delivery and set-up charges, utility hookups, paint, carpeting and decking materials, bookshelves and furniture, as well as a fund to cover the library’s heat and electric bills.
To raise the funds, McDonald turned to churches in New Jersey, while his sister, Mary McDonald Vanderhoof, spread the word to a wider audience via Facebook. Given the economic climate in Wayne County, it is necessary to look outside the local community for contributions.
“We don’t have local support,” Perry said, “because they are struggling themselves.”
Nonetheless, the students have become invested in the library project. Dunlow participates in a reading program designed to build reading comprehension skills and encourage reading for pleasure. For each book a student reads, he or she is awarded reading points. According to Perry, last year the schoolwide score of reading points was 1,000. Then a donor promised to donate a dollar to the library fund for each reading point; by the end of January 2013, the Dunlow students had already accumulated 1,500 reading points. Perry says the donor’s challenge has enabled the students “to take ownership of the library.”
Perry hopes to see the library become a reality during the 2013-14 school year. Donors have been generous, but the school hasn’t reached the goal yet.
“I’m hoping we surpass the goal,” Perry said. “I could use the extra funds for some of the other things we need.”
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of “Patron Saints” (OSV, $14.95).