By Olivia Poust
BETHLEHEM — It’s not every day high school students are inspired to start their own community service projects. Yet, that’s the exact result of Bethlehem Lab School’s new “Butterfly Grant” initiative.
On Oct. 27, Steve Hartman of CBS6 News gave a presentation to Lab School students, during which he showed some of his favorite TV interviews. One of these stories was on Chris Rosati, the man behind the movement.
While battling Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Rosati made it his life’s mission to spread kindness. One of the ways he accomplished this was by handing out what he called “Butterfly Grants” to school kids to be put toward acts of kindness.
The basic principle of these grants stems from a theory in physics known as the “Butterfly Effect.” This theory states that a small act can create a larger change. So, although the grants given weren’t necessarily grand in size (typically $50-$100), they were just the right amount to start making a difference.
For example, the first grants were given to two sisters. They each received $50, which they used to pay for a celebratory feast for a village in Sierra Leone, in honor of being Ebola-free.
Rosati’s philosophy can be best summed up by words that he spoke himself: “If I have enough time, I’ll change the world,” and he certainly did, and continues to do so, even after his death in October 2017.
After hearing this story from Hartman, Lab School junior Mollie Drew approached David Lendrum, the school’s coordinator, with the idea to distribute $50 Butterfly Grants to Lab School Students. Interested students present their proposals to the Lab School community (both teachers and students) for review and possible approval.
Typically at the end of the school year, parents give Lab School teachers small gifts. Last year, however, they decided to pool their money and put it into an existing classroom fund. “We used it in the past to buy supplies for classrooms or for STEM, and this year we used some of that money to fund butterfly grants,” explained Lendrum.
Since the introduction of the grants in early November, Lab School has funded three community service projects designed and managed by students.
Drew not only came up with the idea for the Lab School grants but is also working on a project as part of the program. It’s called “The Giving Tree,” and consists of attaching necessities, such as food and clothes, to a tree for the homeless to take. Drew got the idea from her Aunt, who started a Giving Tree at Danny’s Village Inn, a restaurant in Wurtsboro.
Drew hopes to start the project in Albany. Until she works out the legalities that come with designating a tree to the cause, she is using her grant to support the existing tree in Wurtsboro.
Other Lab School grant projects were created by Tori Pistilli, a freshman, and Emily Zemsky, a junior.
Pistilli’s project, “A Cause for Paws,” benefits the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. She’s placing donation boxes in various places throughout town. One box is currently at Dewey’s Martial Arts Academy, and she hopes to get a box at PetSmart in Glenmont. The collection accepts blankets, toys, winter sweaters and coats, leashes and harnesses. Pistilli then plans to bring the boxes to the Humane Society as they are filled.
Zemsky’s idea supports a cause that’s close to her heart. Her uncle is the principal of Middle School 129 in the Bronx, and he has frequently discussed the poverty in the school with her. This inspired Zemsky to use the grant to start a drive to collect supplies such as coats and other winter clothes for the students there.
The goal of establishing this program is not only to help the community, but also to give students the means to make a difference. “Sure, it will benefit those people who are getting (help through) the butterfly grant, but it’s also a life lesson about how important it is to help other people,” said Lendrum. “So I think it will be beneficial for the kids who are doing it as much as anyone.”
Community service has always been an important part of Lab School — students in the program are required to complete 15 hours per year — but having the ability to start their own initiatives gives students a whole new perspective on service.
Lendrum hopes to distribute more grants in the near future. He also has a long-term goal of receiving support from community individuals and business, so that more grants could be given not just to Lab School students but to students across all of Bethlehem Central High School.
Editor’s Note: Olivia Poust, a senior in Bethlehem’s Lab School Program, is currently interning with Spotlight News.