An Attitude of Gratitude

November 15, 2023

At St. Johnsbury Academy, the development of a student’s character is fostered by student involvement in projects, clubs, and activities that allow them to interact within the school population and the larger community of St. Johnsbury and beyond. Students learn respect, care, integrity, compassion, inclusivity, and responsibility. The phrases “love those the most who need it the most” and “leave this place better than you found it” have become a part of the culture and are lived out daily with school leadership and faculty guidance. Students are challenged to act in a way that reflects those words.


From the recent Walk for a Healthy Community to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the upcoming Blood Drive, to members of the Topper Friends Club sitting with residents of the St. Johnsbury House to share and listen to stories from the residents, SJA students, faculty, and staff are involved in community efforts to make a positive impact.


Topper Friends is an after-school club that meets each week to work on projects, many involving the St. Johnsbury House, a senior housing facility located in the center of town.


For Suyeon Kim, a junior from South Korea, the benefits of her visits to the St. Johnsbury House are as important to her as they are to the residents. “We get emotional support from the residents at the St. Johnsbury House. Being with them around the holidays is like being with our grandparents back home. The residents are interested in listening to us talk about our different cultures, and we enjoy listening to their stories,” she said.


Some visits are spent playing board games, working on crafts, and around the holidays there are special events. Senior YunSeo Kim, also from South Korea, said, “Carving pumpkins was fun.” And she echoed, “The St. Johnsbury House is so welcoming.”


At the end of September, the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s was held in St. Johnsbury on a cool Sunday morning. Along with community members of all ages were dozens of fall athletes from SJA representing each fall athletic team. Several students volunteered on their own, including senior Ava Massoni, “I got involved with the walk shortly after meeting Mrs. McCaffery (an event organizer) and attending the Alzheimer Association Vermont chapter meeting in Montpelier. There, my love for supporting this wonderful cause grew, and I knew I would want to help in any way I could. At the walk, I helped the photographer by helping to organize team photos and get leader information so the photographer could distribute the photographs. At the completion of the walk, I helped breakdown tables and jumped in anywhere else it was needed. It felt wonderful to be part. This organization is a great way to help spread support for people dealing with the disease and try to change the stigma surrounding it. After every event I have attended for the Alzheimer’s Association, I feel a great sense of community. Helping out is a great opportunity to meet wonderful people and understand their experiences and stories while doing work that could benefit many.”


The Walk for a Healthy Community evolved from the Walk for Hunger when it became evident that the community needed more than just canned food collected during the food drive. Mrs. Kendall’s Human Services students were among the first to realize that changes were needed and what they could do to help. Sophomore Lily Call recalled, “When I called NEKCA for our class, discovering their most needed items was very interesting. There were items that people wouldn’t even think of, like protein bars, and simple condiments like ketchup and mustard. The Walk for a Healthier Community was a combined effort of classes, teachers, staff, advisories, local individuals, and the Human Services businesses in St. Johnsbury to bring the whole community together to be stronger for the better.”


Other students in the program shared their perspectives on the event and what it meant to the community. Sophomore Peyton Speer said, “When my Human Services class at St. Johnsbury Academy was working on a presentation to promote our local food drive, it made me realize how big of a problem hunger is in our community today. It hurts me to see what our community goes through, but it feels good to be a part of a class that works towards making a difference.” 


Sophomore Mollie Gray added, “My heart hurt when I learned that multiple children and families are struggling with hunger in our community. When we decided to carry on the idea of Birthday Bags, I was super excited about the thought of a child finally being able to experience a birthday party with cake, balloons, decorations, etc. I believe every child deserves to experience a birthday party.” Hannah Angell ’22 originally created the idea of Birthday Bags as part of her Senior Capstone Project. This year’s class made 18, each filled with everything required to make a child’s special day even more special.   


Headmaster Dr. Sharon Howell recently announced that the theme for November would be gratitude. Kaia Anderson is a member of the Hale advisory group and the Senior Class President. For her and many of her classmates, gratitude is already a big part of their lives. Kaia and her advisory group decided to meet on a Sunday to hike Mt. Pisgah, overlooking Lake Willoughby in Westmore, Vermont, for an event they called Hike for Hope Pledge Drive that raised nearly $500. “The hike filled me with gratitude,” she offered, “To be quite honest, I have never enjoyed hiking, and when I woke up and saw that it was projected to be no higher than 40 degrees on the mountain, I struggled to get out of bed that Sunday morning. However, the minute we reached the trailhead and I saw all my fellow advisees yawning and trying to keep their hands warm, my perspective changed. This hike was something much bigger than us, and we were all jeopardizing our own comfort for the needs of others.”


“In the society we live in, selflessness is praised ever so highly when I truly believe it should just be an expectation. I admire those who simply give back because it is the right thing to do, as opposed to giving back because it results in recognition and individual gain. “


Senior Hayden Brown is another member of the Hale Advisory. For him, giving back was the best part of the hike, which was also his first time hiking. “Giving someone even the smallest opportunity to add something to their life that can make them happy makes giving back to the community the best part about the undertaking.”


As Chef Hale and his group reached the summit of Pisgah, they searched for twenty minutes to find the lookout point that would give them a view of Willoughby Lake far below. As the snow continued to fall, the group never got frustrated or complained but instead laughed and joked with each other until they finally found the spot. Kaia recalls, “Snowflakes created a haze and the sight of Willoughby was muted. Yet, it was beautiful. There was a common awe among us cramped on the lookout. We weren’t just admiring the view; we were admiring our accomplishment as a group.”

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