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Community helps Christmas at HWES feel ‘normal’

Community helps Christmas at HWES feel ‘normal’
Community helps Christmas at HWES feel ‘normal’
Mike Kurz, Heth-Washington Elementary School school resource officer, and Michael Shaughnessy, a chaplain at the YMCA of Harrison County, sort gifts Dec. 16 to be distributed to each student. Photos by Kaitlyn Clay
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

Mike Kurz, the school resource officer at Heth-Washington Elementary School, pulled what used to be a white pair of sneakers out of a trash bin in a storage closet. The soles were hanging on by just a few seams, and it would be impossible for the owner of them to walk more than three steps without tripping over their damaged makeup.

“A student here was taking a running test in the gym when I noticed he couldn’t keep up with the other kids, and he was continually tripping over his own feet,” Kurz said. “That’s when I noticed his shoes were falling apart.”

Community helps Christmas at HWES feel ‘normal’
Students share their excitement with one another after receiving a new set of headphones Friday at the school.

Because of donations made throughout the year, Kurz was able to find an extra pair of shoes that were the student’s size and gift them to him so that he could finish the test, and, according to Kurz, the boy was running with ease this time.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, Kurz said, which is what sparked an idea between himself and the school’s secretary-treasurer, Missy Wiseman, and then-principal Nissa Ellett (now principal at Corydon Elementary School) in 2014 to gift each student in the school with a new pair of tennis shoes.

Dr. Sue Lanham, the current principal at Heth-Washington, said Kurz and Wiseman, along with many others, have worked tirelessly to continue the event each year, collecting more and more donations along the way.

“Because of how hard this year has been on everyone — and because kids can’t even be comforted by a smile because we all have masks on — it was more important than ever for me to see this event take place,” Kurz said. “And during a year when it would be understandable if someone couldn’t donate, we saw churches, businesses and families from all over our county come together for this event. This has turned into so much more than just a pair of shoes.”

Kurz, as well as Michael Shaughnessy and Paula Ripperdan, chaplains from the YMCA of Harrison County, and South Harrison Community School Corp. board member Diana Sailor, were some of the volunteers working last Wednesday to put together the bags for each student. The gifts included shoes, headsets to use for virtual learning, board games, stuffed animals and jewelry.

Then, on Friday, the work of the entire Heth-Washington community came to fruition as a masked Santa Claus visited each classroom and invited the students to come out to the hallway in front of their bags.

The hallway erupted with sing-along versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells” as Lanham walked the hallways leading the songs with her megaphone. The students clapped, danced and sang along before counting down from 10 to open their bags. Chaotic joy ensued as they ripped open the bags to reveal the presents from the community.

The sounds of the students’ excitement could be heard in the hallways as the kids thanked Santa and shared with their classmates what they had received.

“What our community has done is just remarkable,” Lanham said. “We see it each year, and it takes your breath away each time. Without Mike and Missy, this event would not be what it is, and they can’t be thanked for what they have done enough.

“So many people from the community helped and donated as well, and it has truly made Christmas feel normal again,” she said.