River Forest may be far removed from the disasters and tragedies that befall other parts of the world. But that distance apparently hasn’t diminished many young people’s capacity for empathy. Throughout River Forest the last week, students were busy raising money to assist with the relief efforts in the wake of the Dec. 26 South East Asia tsunami.

At Grace Lutheran School, Lincoln School, and Trinity High School, the efforts were intense and heartfelt?#34;everything from a large work of art, to funny hats. At the heart of it all was a profound desire to help others.

“We’re always telling [our students] to use their talent to make the world a better place,” said Trinity High School art teacher Viki Siliunas. Over the past three weeks, over 20 Trinity students took that lesson to heart, using their artistic and organizational talents to do just that. So far those efforts have paid off at Trinity to the tune of $1,400, and two of the students involved, Lauren Matthews of Oak Park and Emily Lappe of River Forest, hope to raise even more.

Trinity administrators decided three weeks ago to raise money for a Sri Lanken orphanage run by a Dominican priest who once lived at a north shore church rectory while a student at Loyola University. According to press accounts, the Rev. Paul Satkunanayagam was in a room overlooking the sea with the children, saying Mass, when the tsunami hit. Satkunanayagam saw the huge wave of water coming and got 300 children to higher ground, but the orphanage was completely destroyed.

Aware that “art raises awareness,” Siliunas had the inspiration to design and execute a mural reflecting scenes from the Tsunami on an 8-foot-high by 16-foot-long section of wall in a school hallway.

While over a dozen Trinity art students gave up their lunch hours and after-school time for two weeks, other students like Matthews and Lappe stepped up. They and other members of the school’s Amnesty International chapter made the rounds of the lunchroom and hallways, soliciting donations.

“It seemed like people were being very generous, more than usual,” said Matthews.

Siliunas first produced a collage sketch of scenes from the many photographic images taken of the events in the wake of the tragedy. A grid pattern was then sketched out, and the images sketched out on the wall in Gesso. The drawing was then filled in with charcoal, with some of the red gesso still visible. The effect is both powerful and stark, just like the subject matter, which shows curling waves breaking on either side behind a group of individuals, many reaching out in fear and suffering. Wrapping around all of the people in the mural are enormous arms, as though the rest of the world were trying to envelop and comfort them.

Everyone involved in the project, artists and solicitors alike, agreed that all the work had been worth it.

“We felt really good about it,” said Lappe, echoing her classmates’ shared belief that they all have been involved in something special.

Something special that they all also agree isn’t finished yet.

“We can’t stop here,” said Matthews of the fundraising effort. “We have to keep going.”

Those wishing to donate to the Trinity Tsunami Mural fund can contact Mary Tansey at 771-8383.

Hat privileges for sale
Over at Lincoln School, 511 Park Ave., funny hats were the order of the day on Thursday. For a one-dollar donation, each student was allowed to wear whatever sort of creative chapeau they desired, and for many it got quite creative. Lincoln’s student body moved through the school day in everything from homemade designs featuring toilet paper rolls, to tops sporting sea anemones and various flowers, to plain old White Sox caps.

Everyone, school faculty included, appeared to be enjoying the one-day opportunity for sartorial distinctiveness.

Besides a good-sized pile of dollar bills on her desk Thursday afternoon, Lincoln School secretary Joan Figatner also had to contend with a dozen plastic milk cartons full of coins being lugged into the school office. The coins had been collected in each classroom over the past two weeks. As Frank Franco helped Lincoln Principal Pamela Hyde load the heavy containers into plastic milk crates set on a hand truck, he had a belated brainstorm.

“We should have had a contest to guess how much all these coins weigh,” said Franco. “Thank God for the two wheeler,” said Hyde, looking at the mass of coins that easily weighed 150 pounds. When the counting was concluded at Corus Bank later, all that poundage translated to $3,047.95.

Hyde said she was delighted with the results of the process?#34;both the money raised and the positive effect on her kids. Those students, she said, had a strong sense of the gravity of the situation over in South East Asia.

“It was a good way to give them a sense of power,” said Hyde?#34;as well as allowing some fun.

“They were real excited to wear their hats,” she added with a smile.

As with Trinity, Hyde said her students want to continue their efforts.

“Some kids have come to me to talk about other ideas (for fundraising),” she said.

The day before at Grace Lutheran, students turned over $300 they collected from Wednesday Chapel donations to the Women of Grace Club. According to organization President Harriet Roberts, that money paid for the shipping of some 250 relief kits put together by her organization. The effort, organized by members Marj Koenig and Ginger Folgers, put together 100 school, 100 health and 50 layette (baby) kits that included many items people in more blessed areas of the world take for granted, but which are desperately needed by Tsunami survivors. The kits, containing everything from pencils and paper, to soap and towels to diapers and baby blankets, were then shipped to Lutheran World Relief, where they were then shipped overseas.

Roberts said part of the intent was to involve the entire Grace Lutheran church and school communities in the effort.

“Everyone had a little part to play,” she said.

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