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PPS Students Write to Kids in Ukraine

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PPS Students Write to Kids in Ukraine
Posted on 05/24/2022
This is the image for the news article titled PPS Students Write to Kids in Ukraine

Letters of hope to the children of Ukraine, penned by Lincoln Middle School students, took flight on a plane last week for delivery to children in the war zone. The student missives were part of a letter-writing campaign called Operation Hope, whose organizers are now inviting students from other schools in Portland and beyond to write inspiring messages to be delivered to their counterparts in Ukraine.

“We'd love for many schools in Maine to write these Letters of Hope,” said Jen Swarts, parent of two Portland High School graduates, who came up with the idea. “They cost nothing to write, but they could make all the difference in the world to these children living in fear for their lives, knowing there are children in Portland, Maine, rooting for them. It is good not only for the recipients, but also for our children – it encompasses many principles of learning: English, geography, history, and compassion and how to be a good citizen and person.”

Swarts was actively involved as her children attended the Portland Public Schools from kindergarten through grade 12. “I enjoyed working with Portland Schools throughout their tenure, so when I was wondering what to do for the Ukrainian people, my immediate thought went to the children and somehow working with Portland Public Schools to organize a way to communicate our children’s hopes and wishes for better days ahead to their peers in Ukraine,” Swarts explained.

Partners for World Health (PWH), a Portland-based nonprofit that provides critically needed medical supplies and equipment to hospital partners throughout the world, including in Ukraine, is a partner in the Operation Hope campaign. Swarts’ friend and business associate, Vanessa Kampstra, suggested that PWH, with which she volunteers, take the letters along on flights delivering medical shipments to Ukraine. Julie Forsyth, COO of PWH, was very receptive to the idea and has worked with the organization’s Ukraine partners to ensure the letters will be delivered to children throughout Ukraine.

Swarts also reached out to Superintendent Xavier Botana, who was excited about the idea, which he said he’d share with other Cumberland County superintendents. He connected Swarts with Lincoln Middle School social worker Kathy Randall – who had already asked the superintendent what Lincoln students could do to help the Ukrainian people.

Sixth-graders in English teacher Margot Owen’s class were among those that stepped up and wrote letters, and other students wrote them with Randall. A total of 30 letters were sent to their counterparts in Ukraine on a PWH plane flight last week.

Owen said that the messages from her students included: "I'm sorry things are hard right now. Know that we're thinking of you," and "Stay safe and take care of yourself," and "The world will not forget about you." Letters from Randall’s students contained messages such as “Stay safe,” “I hope you can go home,” and “I am worried about you.”

PWH plans to continue shipping supplies to the Ukraine throughout the summer and fall, and is able to send more letters with the medical shipments. Operation Hope organizers are encouraging more schools to participate so they can send additional letters from Maine students during that time period.

 “We want to bring as many letters as we possibly can of encouragement, hope, and love over to these children from our children – to encourage hope of a better tomorrow,” Swarts said.

For more information about Partners for World Health, visit www.partnersforworldhealth.org or call 207-774-5555.

PHOTO: Pictured are Lincoln Middle School sixth-graders in teacher Margot Owen's class, who wrote letters of hope to youngsters in Ukraine.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 50 languages. 51 percent of the district’s students are white and 49 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.