Janesville girl’s efforts bring shelter to quake victims

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Friday, April 2, 2010
— Natalie O’Connor was worried when she came to school one day last January. The second-grader had heard about the people suffering after the earthquake in Haiti. She wanted to help.

Natalie got permission to talk to her principal. She sat down with Principal Becky Bicha and said Wilson School should do something for the children in Haiti, Bicha said.

“I was really touched by it,” Bicha said. “I thought, wow, this is really something.”

They talked at first about collecting food, but the postage would have been too costly.

Wilson pre-K teacher Jill Hardy, who has gone on aid missions to Haiti for eight years, knew that shelter is a key need. She suggested tents.

The Wilson School Tents for Haiti fundraiser was born.

Hardy knew Natalie from Natalie’s time in pre-K.

“She has always had a very tender heart towards other people, even as a 4-year-old,” Hardy said. “She’s got a very special heart.”

Bicha saw in Natalie a budding leader.

“She took a leadership role, and it’s important that we support (that),” Bicha said.

“To get everybody’s attention in our school, we made a video,” Natalie said.

It worked.

Children in the poorest section of Janesville emptied their piggy banks, Bicha said.

Thursday, the school announced it had raised $1,069.

Hardy arranged for a deal on five 81-square-foot tents from Erehwon Mountain Outfitter in Madison, which became an enthusiastic backer of the project.

Hardy will deliver the tents when she visits Haiti over spring break. She plans to spend leftover cash on food when she arrives.

The class with the biggest contribution was the kindergartners, with $242. That distinction won them an ice cream party Thursday. But first, they listened to Hardy talk about Haiti.

Hardy told them of tarantulas as big as a fist. She told them of a family with three children she visits every time she visits Haiti. Then she told of the houses that the earthquake destroyed.

“The rainy season’s coming, and they have no houses now,” Hardy explained. “… They’re sleeping on the grass.”

Now, thanks to the tents from Wilson School, more people will have places to live and stay dry, Hardy told the children, and she would not be surprised to see children dancing for joy.

Last updated: 1:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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