When it came time for Anoka High School (AHS) students Katie Jones, Zachary Charlton, Jordan Armbrust and Paige Hennen to select a senior project, the team decided to go above and beyond for 10 breast cancer survivors.
The students chose to honor the women for their strength and presented them a full sized blanket with pink ribbons, the symbol for breast cancer, and a letter, written by Hennen, titled “Fight like a Girl.”
“Anyone can give up; it’s the easiest thing in the world to do,” states the letter, “but to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.
“This blanket that we give to you represents your strength through all of the days when you just wanted to give up. It represents the fear that you had when the doctor gave you the news that changed your life. It represents the love and support that everyone has for you. It represents that every day is a gift and you will always enjoy every moment because you never know when it will be your last. Your strength is inspirational. Fight like a Girl and never give up!”
The letter tells the women that the students’ wish for them was comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss their lips, sunsets to warm their hearts, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for their eyes to see, friendship to brighten their being, faith so they can believe, confidence for when they doubt, courage to know themselves, patience to accept the truth and love to complete their lives.
To raise money for the project, the students held a raffle for a gift basket with many items donated by Texas Roadhouse. An employee of the restaurant, Charlton was allowed to hang a nine foot banner explaining the students’ project. The banner alone took eight hours to make. The students raised almost $300 for material for the 10 blankets.
The students then connected with former teachers and family members to identify the women who would receive the blankets.
Gwen Humphries, a secretary in the guidance office at AHS since 1994, received one of the blankets. While she did not personally know the students before receiving the blanket, many people knew about her battle with breast cancer in 2010. She said she was overwhelmed to receive the blanket and letter.
“I couldn’t believe these kids would do something so wonderful,” Humphries said. “It makes me feel like I need to pay forward all the kindness they have shown me.”
Humphries has framed the letter and said the blanket has a special place on her bed.
“I will always remember this,” Humphries said. “I have never been so touched.”
Blankets were also distributed to teachers at Ramsey and Wilson elementary schools.
Kari Protivinsky, a kindergarten teacher at Ramsey, said her reaction to the students’ gesture was a mixture of surprise and a feeling of being uplifted.
“It touching to know these students poured their time and energy into brightening someone’s day,” Protivinsky said. “Their kindness and thoughtfulness filled me with warmth. You can tell these students were devoted to this project and that their hears were in it.”
Jean Forrest, a fourth grade teacher, was asked if a group of high school students could give her something they were making. She said, yes.
“I was given a bag that was decorated in pink letters, ‘Fight like a Girl,’” she said. “When I opened the bag, I pulled out a white and pink ribbon tie blanket. I told them I would try to hold the tears. These blankets take a lot of time to make and this one was beautiful. It is very special because a group of students got together to make something and give it to a person they had never met.
“I am sure the students had a positive feeling on how giving back to the community feels. I have already covered myself with my blanket while I read a book and drank hot chocolate.”
Gale Bergstrom, a fifth grade teacher at Wilson, said she was deeply touched by the students’ caring, generosity, warmth,and support.
“The letter gave such wonderful encouragement,” Bergstrom said. “This was a thoughtful project and I am honored to be a recipient of their kindness.”
The students’ instructor, Jessica Kaspar, said students in the senior politics and law classes select an issue for their senior project and during the course of the trimester they work at advocating and/or volunteering for that issue. Kaspar said the rewards that she has seen come out of these projects have been amazing.
“The best part of this project is the sense of pride and accomplishment the students feel when they complete their projects,” Kaspar said. “I truly believe this project helps energize the students into continuing these types of activities well after their high school careers. In fact a lot of students would tell you that this project is one of the most memorable things they did while in high school.”
AHS Principal Mike Farley is very proud of the wonderful work the students are doing with their senior projects and was happy to see one group acknowledge Humphries for being a valued member of the Anoka family.
“The caring and kindness I am seeing from our student body is extremely positive and infectious at many levels,” Farley said. “Gwen is such an important part of the work we are doing at Anoka High School and is an example of the positive, healthy relationships our staff is building with our students.”