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52 Weeks of Giving teaching more than kindness


April 03, 2018

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It started eight years ago with a mom who just wanted to teach her kids about the world around them and how to give back.

But for Cindy Hatchell, Youth & Family Services manager and assistant library manager at the Statesboro Regional Library, the lessons have gone far beyond that.

Hatchell began 52 Weeks of Giving while she worked at another library in Kentucky.

“I wanted some volunteering, some different services to teach my children how to give back. So I spoke with my director there; I had this idea, and she was all for it. So we started 52 Weeks of Giving,” she said. Her children, now both 13, were joined each Friday by about 25 to 30 other children.

The program was originally intended to only be for one year.

“I had planned to do one year and be done with it, but the kids wouldn’t let me stop,” Hatchell said, smiling.

Hatchell said she knew the kids in Kentucky were getting in when they ran in one day, after hearing that some Navy SEALs from Kentucky had been killed. They asked, “Miss Cindy, what are we going to do? How are we going to help these families?”

“I knew right then, they were getting it,” she said.

Her partner in Kentucky, Libby Edwardson, moved from there to Maine, and took the program with her, so that meant there were two libraries using the program. Hatchell has worked to write a curriculum for it, and other programs across the country have requested it for their use, including groups in North Carolina, Washington and California.

And when Hatchell interviewed for the job in Statesboro, she also asked if she could bring it here. It was agreed that if she got the job, she could institute the program in Statesboro as well.

Hatchell said there has been a “good core group” coming each Friday. It has been a weekly thing, but the program this year will now be on the first and third Friday of each month at 4 p.m. This change began in March.

During last year’s program, the group did encouragement projects for local firefighters, made kindness rocks, adopted a platoon, made no-sew blankets for a local nursing home, wrote and delivered random notes of kindness, created Birthday in a Box packages for the homeless shelter, created book packages for children for a local group home, and put together blessing bags for the homeless. And that’s not the complete list.

When the group has been doing a lot of “heavy” projects, Hatchell said she throws in something fun and silly for the kids to do, such as eye bombing, where they put google eyes on inanimate objects around town, just to give people a smile. They also handed out balloons and treat bags on St. Patrick’s Day, calling it, “It’s Your Lucky Day.”

The group has some ongoing projects, including collecting soda can tabs for Ronald McDonald House, a penny fundraiser for charity, and Socks for Courtney, a partnership that allows the children to collect and donate socks in memory of Cortney Kemp, a Mill Creek Elementary student who passed away at 9 years old with an undiagnosed heart condition. The items for these projects are collected year-round at the library, along with cake mix and frosting, party decorations, toiletries, stuffed animals (new or slightly used), small cars and notecards.

As if that wasn’t enough, the group has also created lending libraries and placed them around town. Using racks donated by the Statesboro Herald, the libraries allow local residents to take a book and leave one. The project was a joint partnership with students at Georgia Southern University.

Projects for this year include collecting stuffed animals for children in foster care and for Cuddly Cops, to be giving to children in scary situations. They will also be doing a special project to encourage single mothers, hosting a bake sale for charity, and offering encouragement to sheriff’s deputies, mail carriers and library staff.

Hatchell says the ongoing projects have taught her children much more than she ever expected.

“It has opened their eyes to how they can help people. I notice my son, you know, just little things. He helped a lady get her groceries out of her buggy the other day. My daughter, if she sees somebody drop something, or having a tough time getting something out of a cart to put in their car, she’ll say, ‘Mama, can I help them?’ So it’s opened their hearts,” she said.

She sees evidence in the other children in the group as well. When the shootings happened recently in Parkland, Florida, some of the children came to her and asked how they could help. The group soon was sitting down to write letters of encouragement, which were sent to those left hurting after the incident.

“It opens them up to see little things that a lot of people these days don’t see. Like somebody struggling with getting something out of their buggy, or trying to open the door with a stroller, or whatever. These kids, I see them noticing things like that,” she said.

Hatchell becomes emotional when she speaks about what the program — and its participants — are teaching her.

“They’ve taught me way more than I could ever teach them,” she said. “I work with the greatest kids ever. They’ve opened my heart. They’ve shown me that there is good in the world, there is kindness in the world. That’s something that we, as adults, we lose track of. We see all the bad on the news, but I can come here on Fridays, and they show up and they’re smiling, and they’re eager to do whatever it is that we have planned. And I know there’s hope.”

Hatchell said the program is made possible by donations from the Friends of the Library, as well as a generous donation from Socks for Courtney. She says she couldn’t do it without the generosity of the parents of the participating students.

And she said anyone who wants to come is welcome, no matter their age. She tells people that anyone, from 1 to 101, can participate.

“I feel like, no matter the age, no matter where you come from, everybody can use some good,” she said.

For more information on 52 Weeks of Giving, call (912) 764-1344, or e-mail Hatchell at cindyh@strl.info.


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