CLINTONVILLE - Many students at AuSable Valley Central School are learning the holidays are more about giving than receiving.
Donna Ruggeri, an English teacher at AVCS, is encouraging students to discover the rewards of generosity through a program she calls Acts of Kindness.
"I wanted to cultivate compassion," said Ruggeri. "I wanted my students to show that compassion for someone else."
Along with fellow teacher Diane White, Ruggeri has gotten dozens of students to participate in a range of selfless gestures to benefit those in need this holiday season.
The largest part of Acts of Kindness involved collecting teddy bears to donate to area hospitals as gifts for children receiving treatment. Students collected 200 stuffed animals and recently distributed them to pediatric wards at CVPH in Plattsburgh, Elizabethtown Community Hospital, and even Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt.
Ruggeri began the program roughly three years ago after a concussion landed her in the hospital. It was there she saw first-hand how a stuffed animal can make a big impact on a hospitalized child.
Josh Gidding, a student participating in the program, said the thought of giving children in the hospital a stuffed animal was very rewarding.
"It's nice being able to make their day;" he said, "knowing they have a friend there to hold."
In addition to the bears, students have also been bringing food to donate to local food shelves and assembling care packages for AVCS alumni currently deployed overseas in the military.
"I'm amazed at the response (from the students)," said Ruggeri. "It's got a life of its own."
Students receive a grade for participating in Acts of Kindness, and can receive extra credit for writing about the experience. Through their essays, students have repeatedly echoed their appreciation of the experience.
"They say, 'I like making somebody feel good,'" Ruggeri said. "It's nice when they can say that and feel good about themselves."