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<B>Students from the Grace Christian School clean out the flood-damaged basement of Larry Miller&rsquo;s home on Harmon Road in Bennington on Tuesday. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s 30 years of accumulation down the drain,&rdquo; Miller said of the loss, suffered during Tropical Storm Irene. &ldquo;I had three feet of water in the cellar.&rdquo; The faculty member supervising the volunteer work crew, Eric Hartwell, said the students planned to take a mission trip to Guatamala. &ldquo;This is preparation,&rdquo; Hartwell said. (Peter Crabtree)</B>
Wednesday September 21, 2011

BENNINGTON -- Two local private schools are assisting storm victims this week while teaching students a sense of community and the value of giving.

On Tuesday, Grace Christian School 11th and 12th grade students spent the day cleaning out the basement of a home on Harmon Road in Bennington that was flooded during Tropical Storm Irene. With face masks, gloves and determination, 22 students removed tools, toys and other damaged items that collected in the basement of Larry Miller’s home.

"Water went up three feet, so anything that was three feet or lower we had to bring outside, and (Miller) would stand there by the Dumpster and say, ‘that’s garbage (or) that’s keep,’" said Eric Hartwell, a physical education teacher at the school who helped with the work.

On Wednesday, students in Grades4 through 7 at Southshire Community School in North Bennington begantheir ownrelief efforts by baking apple pies to raise money for those effected by the flood. Eighteen students in those grades are baking approximately a dozen pies each school day for the next two weeks.

Each year Southshire Community students raise money for Heifer International, a global nonprofit group that gives plants and livestock to poverty-stricken families. This year, with such an incredible need in Vermont followingthe storm, students decidedto focustheir fundraising locally.

That decision,said teacher Jude Fitzgerald, has given students the opportunity to see the good they can do first-hand. "I think they’re really getting a sense of personal empowerment, that they can do something to better their neighbors and to be a part of a solution. The idea that, yes, an individual can help dire circumstances just by doing a small bit of good."

All of the pies are being made from scratch with locally grown apples. Order forms have been distributed to the families of the students, but Fitzgerald said that if additional pies are made the school will sell the rest in the community.

In addition to a lesson on helping others, students are applying skills in math, writing, social studies and, especially, teamwork.

"We have a dough-making group, we have an apple-pealing group, we have a mixing group; we have students tallying and doing order forms and advertising," he said. "The teachers are overseeing it, but really the students are doing 99 percent of the work," Fitzgerald said.

Grace Christian efforts

Grace Christian students said they learned much about helping others by cleaning 30 years worth of accumulation out of Miller’s basement.

"It was really good to be able to help out, especially because he was injured so a lot of the stuff he couldn’t do himself," said Josh Bourdon, a senior from Adams, Mass. "He was really appreciative that we had a lot of younger people who were willing to lift a lot of the heavy stuff and able to move it out of there."

Emily Steadman, a senior from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., said she was excited to lend a hand. "I was happy I got to do it because my dad and brother (did a lot of volunteering) this summer, and I wasn’t able to do it with them, so I was happy to have the opportunity to," she said.

"I felt bad because he lost so much stuff. It was just lots of money that he put into that, and memories, and it’s all thrown away," she said.

Grace Christian Administrator Joyce Lloyd said the cleanup was organized by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Another project is planned for the school’s freshmen and sophomore students, who Lloyd said are anxious to help as well.

"It’s putting our faith into action, and we believe you should help your neighbor and love your neighbor -- it’s practical Christianity and it’s making a difference in our community," Lloyd said.

This summer, volunteers from North Carolina did a lot of work at Grace Christian, as well as two churches in Pownal, which Lloyd said motivated her to have the school increase its own focus on community service.

"I got a good taste of Southern hospitality. So this year, our school’s really working on southern Vermont hospitality, and we want to reach out to our community," Lloyd said.

Tuesday’s efforts were a precursor to a week-long mission trip juniors and seniors will take to Guatemala in March, when they will volunteer in an orphanage.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com