By Claudia Mathis
The atmosphere in Frazer Elementary School’s cafeteria was spirited and lively in contrast to the dark, rainy weather outside on the morning of Dec. 21.
Eighty of the school’s second-graders had gathered there to meet up with more than 80 teens from a youth group representing St. Cecilia’s Church in Solvay, St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus and Our Lady of Peace Church in Lakeland.
The gathering was the culmination of the youth’s Build-A-Bear service project, which has been in place for the last four years. “Our kids love it,” said Terri Condon, youth minister at St. Cecilia’s. The teens, eager to show compassion to those who were less fortunate, purchased and designed a Build-A-Bear stuffed animal for each student. They also brought coloring books, which they had made, along with crayons for the children.
Over the years, the youth have given Build-A-Bears to Seymour Elementary and Roberts Schools in Syracuse.
The project, which was organized by Condon and St. Joseph’s youth minister Cindy Heath, benefits the teens as well. “They get so much back from it,” said Condon. “They like the one-on-one connection with the children. Building the bear for someone else brings out their inner child. Last year, they received thank you notes from the children and they were so excited to get them.”
Prior to the dispensing of the bears in the cafeteria, Frazer principal Debra Ann Mastropaolo talked to the teens about the importance of being role models to the students and of serving as a connection to the community.
Mastropaolo said that 40 percent of Frazer’s students do not speak English. “Over 36 different languages are spoken at our school,” she explained.
Condon said that the language barrier makes the teens’ interaction with the students all the more special. “They learn how to communicate with one another without words,” said Condon.
The children were very happy that day, sharing their stuffed animals with their classmates. The teens spent a few hours with their designated student, reading, talking and coloring.
Will Nichols, a high school freshman and parishioner of St. Cecilia’s, participated in the project for the first time. Will had designed a dog, which was dressed in a blue hooded sweatshirt. “I chose the color blue because I drew a boy’s name,” said Will. He and his student, Messiah Johnson, named the stuffed animal and filled out a birth certificate for it. They named it Chico after Messiah’s dog at home.
Will said he found the experience to be rewarding. “This is very exciting,” he said. “I feel relieved and happy that I made him happy.”
Messiah was grateful for the Build-A-Bear and enjoyed the coloring book.
“I wanted to make sure that he has a good Christmas,” added Will. “I’ll be doing this next year because I want to make them happy.”
Student Mohammed Alnoamy enjoyed spending some time with Mary Kortright, one of the college students who decided to participate in the project this year. Kortright designed a bear, which was colorfully dressed as a Christmas elf, complete with boots and a bell on its hat. She and Mohammed named the bear Abdula, Mohammed’s brother’s name.
A student at Onondaga Community College, Kortright has taken part in the project every year since its inception. “I look forward to it every year,” said Kortright. “As a Catholic, I believe in good works. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone makes me feel good and humble.”
Condon was informed by school officials after the event that many of the children, touched by the generosity of the teens, cried after their visit to the school.