HOWLAND, Ohio (WYTV) – This week’s Hometown Hero award is for a group at Howland Schools. Their effort, led by a local teacher, is making Christmas a lot brighter for those in need.
For the last 20 years, the Howland Local School District has collected donated gifts during the holiday season for local families and patients at Children’s Rehabilitation Center. It’s called the Helping Hands program.
In the last few years, Sarah Penney, a music teacher at H.C. Mines Elementary, recognized a need within the school itself as well.
“About three years ago, I had a little girl in my class, right before Thanksgiving break, and her shoes were falling apart and I wanted to buy her a pair of shoes. So, I went to the principal and asked, ‘What can I do to buy this girl a pair of shoes?’ I figured out the size and then I found out that she had a brother in another class and then found out there’s another student that could maybe use a new pair of shoes too. Then found out there’s a huge amount of need within just our school,” Penney said.
So, Penney and other staff started recommending families in the district who would also benefit from the annual holiday giving program.
Gifts collected are donated by students, staff, community members, local businesses and organizations.
“Everyone participates. It’s a huge team effort — custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teachers, parents, students,” said H.C. Mines Principal Jennifer Stephenson.
Nine families, including 27 kids, will benefit from this year’s program, along with patients and families at Children’s Rehabilitation Center.
Penney says helping others during the holidays is something she learned at a young age.
“Growing up, my family, we always did at least one thing that was a service project. Each year it changed over time, whether it was going to a soup kitchen or wrapping gifts, volunteering to wrap gifts or just handing out food to our neighbors, you know, treats and goodies. But this year and for the last three years, this has been my service project for the holidays,” Penney said.
Students at H.C. Mines are now learning the same lesson of giving as they bring in their own donated gifts.
“They are so proud to be giving that present to someone else and it’s a really important lesson for all our children to learn,” Stephenson said.
That lesson has had a ripple effect throughout the school.
“I’m just so very proud of my staff and my students and we really have embraced the season of giving here at H.C. Mines,” Stephenson said.
Penney says the donations from all around Howland have also been really impressive.
“Just being able to see the amount of generosity within our school and community, it’s just overwhelming,” Penney said.
Congratulations to Penney and the volunteers with the Helping Hands program for being this week’s Hometown Heroes!