Students at an archdiocesan elementary school recently rolled up their sleeves to support children with disabilities.

Earlier this week, kids at St. Teresa of Calcutta School in Schwenksville filled a van with boxes of pool noodles, sensory toys, and arts and crafts supplies for delivery to Variety Children’s Charity of the Delaware Valley.

Through an array of social, educational and vocational programs, the Montgomery County-based nonprofit serves children between ages 5 and 24 with temporary or permanent disabilities from injury, illness or congenital conditions.

The St. Teresa donation drive capped off students’ celebration of National Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 31-Feb.5).


When planning a service project for the observance, principal Robin John said she knew just the person to call: Variety CEO Dominique Bernardo, who also happens to be her sister.

“Variety relies a lot on donations, and they get monetary gifts, but not arts and crafts, and things that they need on a daily basis,” said John.

Although St. Teresa students “collect food and clothing” as part of regular service projects, John said she wanted to involve the children in something more hands-on and close to home.

“What sold me was the fact that it was kids helping kids,” she said. “It gives them a sense of empathy, having an opportunity to serve children with these needs, knowing they were helping them.”

Students poured themselves into the effort, said John, and “the project wasn’t about parents going out and buying something.”

Under the direction of art teacher Cathy Carpenter, kids made potholders for use in Variety’s kitchen activities, while carefully sorting through the numerous practical items the collection netted, such as first aid kits, cleaning supplies, flashlights and batteries.

The eight graders came up with “well over $200 in gift cards,” which Variety clients and staff will put to good use at the supermarket, since “they do a lot of baking,” John said, adding she was “overwhelmed” by students’ generosity.

“On the first day, these kids got out of the cars carrying gallons of paint, glue, pool noodles,” she said. “This went on all week. When we loaded the van, I said to my sister, ‘Who’s going to unpack all of this?’”

The response would have made the school’s patron saint proud, John said.

“Our mission statement is to serve like St. Teresa of Calcutta served,” she said. “And they’re living St. Teresa’s mission in a way that they can live it, being children and serving others like them. It was very powerful, and more than I expected.”