By Tony DeGol
As the days and nights get chillier, sixth grade students at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy in Johnstown are spreading warmth – literally and figuratively.
The students – part of the Saint Vincent de Paul Youth Conference – made blankets and donated them to the Alternative Community Resource Program in Johnstown, which responds to the needs of struggling children and their families.
It is a touching story of kids helping kids, and the selfless efforts of the DMCA students were acknowledged and celebrated recently at ACRP.
With help from school officials and parents, the students dropped off about 40 beautiful blankets that will keep children snug in the winter days ahead.
“Originally this project started in the spring before COVID, and we were raising money for the beds ACRP was making for children,” stated retired DMCA Associate Principal Mary Jo Podratsky, who continues to consult with the school. “It really took off in our school. Parents were donating large amounts of money just so they could purchase a bed for these children.”
When students returned to in-person classes this academic year, they came up with the idea of making blankets for the beds.
“It all came together where we were able to donate the money for the beds and was told that we enabled them to have enough money to make 100 beds, so this just inspired the students,” Podratsky relayed.
The loving outreach from Divine Mercy Catholic Academy allows ACRP to continue its much-needed “Beds for Kids” project.
“As of today, we have 102 requests for beds,” said ACRP Program Director Jim Buday. “Of course we can’t do it without support, so all the work these kids have done will enable us to continue to make beds for kids who don’t have beds.”
The request for 102 beds is a huge jump from when ACRP sponsored the project a few years ago and received only 10 or 12 requests.
Distributed throughout Cambria, Somerset, and Bedford counties, the beds are truly blessing for many families, and the blankets from DMCA – which feature whimsical characters or images – are a bonus.
“These are young kids who are going from sleeping in maybe a chair or in some cases piles of clothes to going into a bedroom and seeing a happy blanket with all those animals and all those creatures on there, it’s going to make them happy and that’s what this is all about,” Buday commented.
“We found out it’s not just our agency, it’s got to be a community effort and that’s what I see today,” added ACRP Executive Director Frank Janakovic. “I’m so proud to see our young people here today doing something for our community for those in need.”
The project is a labor of love for the students who gather in the school gym regularly to make the blankets – just one of many outreach projects in which the children are engaged as part of the Saint Vincent de Paul Youth Conference.
“I think it’s great that these kids have something to keep them warm when it gets cold,” said DMCA student Vindy Kohan.
“I think it’s really nice knowing that you’re doing something good for your community and people who are less fortunate,” added student Charles Neumann.
“It’s really nice because everybody was willing to do it this year from our grade,” commented DMCA student Aaden Newcomer. “It helps us make a lot more blankets.”
The students’ involvement in this project is teaching them a lesson greater than anything they could ever learn in a text book.
“We just hope to plant a seed – a seed of compassion and understanding and hope that they would carry it on and in their lives and they would see that just a little bit of service goes a long way in helping people,” Podratsky said.
“I hope that these kids who did all this work can realize that there are a lot of less fortunate families and children out there who don’t have the bare necessities like a bed, like food, like a warm place to sleep, and it’s important for all of the people in our community to realize that there are people in need,” added Buday.
“It’s not about us as individuals,” stressed Janakovic. “It’s about what we can do if we put our minds together collectively.”
The Divine Mercy Catholic Academy students plan to continue making blankets, assuring that they will continue to spread plenty of warmth.
“It’s just really fun, and I enjoy taking time out of my day to help people who need it,” said student Sophia Horwath.
[Photo: Divine Mercy Catholic Academy Students Charles Neumann, Aaden Newcomer, Sophia Horwath, and Vindy Kohan show off one of the beautiful blankets made by DMCA students and donated to the Alternative Community Resource Program in Johnstown as part of ACRP’s “Beds for Kids” project.]