HAMBURG, N.Y. — Not all lessons in school come from a text book.
At Randolph Academy's Hamburg campus, students got a lesson in compassion and building character while at a sewing machine.
"The project was really fun because of the feeling of being able to give children the colors and happiness that I personally enjoy myself," said freshman Kai Mruk. "I tried to choose the brightest colors and the cutest fabrics, like the elephant ones are absolutely adorable. I tried to unlock my inner kid to design them."
The children Mruk is talking about are patients at Oishei Children's Hospital, and the colorful fabrics she lovingly chose are being used to make pillowcases that will be donated to those sick kids.
Cosmetology and barbering teacher Rebecca Jaszka didn't have any formal sewing training, but she had a desire to give back and a group of students eager to help. They also had a ton of sewing machines collecting dust in a storage room at the school.
Jaszka, and her husband, Greg, a fellow teacher, wanted to do something nice for families with children in the hospital. They know what that's like.
"Several days before Christmas, she ended up in the hospital with RSV. It was a nasty season for a lot of children. Unfortunately, she worsened while at the hospital and ended up in the ICU," said Greg Jaszka, speaking of their then eight-month-old daughter, Claire.
While they dealt with the fear and uncertainty of their daughter's illness, they were overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers who would pop into their daughter's hospital room with gifts to cheer them up.
"Literally I would break down in tears every time somebody came to our room with another gift," said Rebecca Jaszka.
Their daughter is almost a year and a half, and she's doing great today — healthy, walking, talking, running.
The pillowcase project was the Jaszka family's way to pay it forward, and their students were eager to help.
Junior Ryan Hackford knew how to sew and used his skills to make a pillowcase.
"Shoutout to Grandma Betty. Thanks for teaching me how to sew," said Hackford.
The students made 20 pillow cases, which will be washed and individually packaged for delivery to the hospital.
The donation is one of comfort and kindness, and, in a way, a sort of therapy for the students at Randolph Academy, which works with students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
"The work of their hands to create pillowcases connects with families in need and connects with comfort for a sick child. It's a beautiful cycle that really represents the truest sense of community. It's a really important part of character development," said Lori DeCarlo, superintendent of Randolph Academy. "The best way to help yourself is to help others. That really good feeling of joy that comes is very therapeutic and very healing for our students."
Teachers and staff also donated gift cards and other items that will be donated to the hospital along with the pillowcases.
The Jaskas and school hope to make this an annual service learning project.
Click here for a list of items the Oishei Children's Hospital Family Advisory Council is looking for.