Students brighten holidays for storm victims | AspenTimes.com

Students brighten holidays for storm victims

John Colson

Aspen Middle School students, from left, Casey Altman, Brooke Altman, Michael Willsky and Emma Willsky help put together cards and clothing for students in Biloxi, Miss. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

A couple hundred Aspen Middle School students and staff are working on a load of holiday cheer for their “adopted” counterparts at D’Iberville Middle School in Biloxi, Miss., one of the many hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast communities.This will be the second time the local kids have sent relief supplies to the Biloxi school. The first shipment, textbooks and school supplies, went south in October. This one is scheduled to be shipped to Biloxi in time for the holidays.The shipment, according to organizer Jodi Searing, registrar for Aspen Middle School, will include “at least one $20 gift card to each of the 173 students and staff” at D’Iberville, and more if possible.The cards, or gift certificates, will be redeemable at stores in the Biloxi area, such as Target, Old Navy, the Gap, Sears, J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart.Students have been writing letters, holding bake sales and gathering a load of donated fleece jackets and vests that the schools specifically requested. The fleece, Searing said, is sufficient to ward off the relatively mild winter chill of the Gulf Coast.Searing said the students of D’Iberville Middle School, which was swamped by a nine-foot storm surge and is not habitable, have spent a couple of months in local elementary school facilities and are now being taught in modular buildings.Roughly 450 of the 724 students enrolled at D’Iberville before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29 have returned. And of those, Searing said, the 173 adoptees were chosen because they suffered the worst losses from the storms.Searing said the adoption was largely possible because of the involvement of retired local teacher Heidi Roupp, a member of the Teachers Without Borders organization.Aspen Middle School eighth-grader Casey Altman and her sisters Brooke, who’s in sixth grade, and Drew, in second grade, and parents, Joan and Lawrence, have amassed a collection of 55 letters destined for the students of D’Iberville.The Altmans and seventh-grader Michael Willsky and his fifth-grade sister, Emma, said they have not had a chance to talk with the Mississippi students but that they hope the D’Iberville students will write back and strike up a kind of mass pen-pal correspondence.”This is more for a good cause, not just to meet people from other places, but to help them,” Michael said.The four also said they would like to go to Biloxi some day to visit, but “maybe after everything clears up a little,” Casey Altman said. “I’d be a little bit afraid” to go down now, while the region is still in tatters.All four students said they enjoyed the relief work.”It felt good, helping these kids,” Brooke Altman said. “I would really feel good about someone helping me if I was in that kind of situation.”The school is accepting donations of money and used or new fleece clothing in all sizes. Checks can be made payable to Aspen Middle School, and donated items will be accepted until Dec. 14.All contributions can be dropped off at the middle school office, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Searing can be reached at 925-3760, ext. 2001.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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