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Catholic Schools Week a chance for IC students to give back

  • IC third grader Abbe Knecht shows a patriotic-themed letter she made on Thursday. The letter will be sent to military veterans in Marshalltown. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • IC teacher Staci Holzer gives some pointers to her students, Rylan Fraser (left) and Isaiah Watkins (right), on Thursday afternoon. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Beth Rottinghaus gets her blood drawn at IC Church on Thursday by Richard Harris. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • The Red Cross held a blood drive in conjunction with IC Church on Thursday afternoon in Charles City. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • The Red Cross held a blood drive in conjunction with IC Church on Thursday afternoon in Charles City. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Charles City High School juniors (from left to right) Ivane Estaris, Lilly Usher and Jadon Moss helped coordinate a Red Cross blood drive at the IC Church on Thursday in Charles City. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • IC students Deacon Cleveland (from left to right), Ty Hejna and Silas Cleveland all helped out on Thursday during Catholic Schools Week at Immaculate Conception School. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra,

IC alumni won’t soon forget Catholic Schools Week.

For five days this week, a celebration of service, kindness, scholarship and faith is being embraced at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School in Charles City.

Lilly Usher sure remembers.

Her time as a grade-school student at the century-old school that first opened its doors in 1895 in Charles City is a vivid one.

The Charles City High School junior said she cherished the lessons learned and core values instilled growing up as a child and attending IC from kindergarten through sixth grade.

“It was a time where we got to really learn more about the Catholic church and learn how lucky we are to have a Catholic school in Charles City. There’s not many towns of our size that have a large Catholic elementary school like we do and I’m very, very lucky that my parents decided to send me there,” said Usher.

As a part of National Catholic Schools Week, Usher teamed up with her alma mater to help plan and put on a Red Cross blood drive Thursday afternoon at the IC Church just across the street from her former grade school.

Usher said she wants to major in biology in college and become a nurse.

Many current IC students stopped by the blood drive to learn more about it and help out with the cause. One of those students was sixth-grader Ty Hejna.

Hejna was on the committee to plan activities for Thursday – Cheerful Giver Day.

Each day at IC this week had a designation – like “Crazy for Kindness” on Monday or “Dress for Success” on Tuesday. Wednesday’s theme was “Let Your Light Shine,” where students, teachers, alumni and community members took part in a “Reed and Feed” in classrooms.

Thursday was also “Ranae Day,” in honor of Hejna’s mother, Ranae Hejna, who died in August 2018 from pancreatic cancer.

Hundreds of students and teachers wore the color purple to remember those affected by cancer.

“Since my mom worked in the lab at the hospital and she kind of was in charge of it, I know that it’d be kind of cool to get a bunch of people to donate blood for a bunch of people in need,” said Ty.

Ty’s friends – twin fifth-graders Deacon and Silas Cleveland – also helped deliver toys to day cares as part of the specific service projects each grade took part in.

First- and second-graders made placemats for the Jordan River Food Bank and other students helped recite the rosary at nursing homes in Charles City.

Deacon and Silas’ mother, Chris Cleveland, helped out with the blood drive. Chris, the IC Church music and liturgy coordinator, is also a cancer survivor and said she was very happy to see so many students, young and old, get involved in helping their community out.

“It was fun to tell them Lilly went to IC. She’s continuing to do what we’re trying to teach the kids about serving the community and being kind and all those things,” said Chris.

Usher said this is the sixth blood drive she’s helped coordinate and the first in quite some time at her church. She said the drive is considered a pint-sized hero drive because of the involvement with IC students who showed up in shifts throughout the afternoon to facilitate or learn from her staff.

“They’re learning about the value of volunteering and that intertwines into their Catholic faith,” said Usher. “It’s a really good opportunity for them to see what a blood drive is as a child so it gets rid of some of that negative connotation.”

Usher is also working on becoming an intern for the Red Cross. She said early in the day that her staff had 27 donors lined up that could potentially produce 25 units of blood. Every donor gives one unit, some give two. A unit is equal to a pint of blood and can save three lives, she said.

“The impact of it is much greater than ‘they just took some blood out of my arm,’” said Usher.

Over at IC School, third- and fourth-grade teacher Staci Holzer was busy guiding her students to construct letters that will be sent to military veterans who reside at the Iowa Veterans Home in  Marshalltown.

The patriotic-themed letters her third-graders put together is a takeoff of some of the work she has done with veterans as a member of the Osage American Legion. She has sent care packages through that organization to many veterans in various branches of the military.

Holzer, who has been a member of the IC faculty for 16 years, said she receives a tremendous amount of satisfaction when she runs into or hears from her former students. Talk about Catholic Schools Week often enters the conversation.

“My previous students, that are now in high school, this is the week that they remember,” said Holzer. “That to me warms my heart because that touches us knowing that we’re doing our jobs, but at the same time we know we’re building those memories for them. It’s something that can last them a lifetime.”

Katie Jarvill, who has been a teacher at IC for the past 18 years, was getting her kindergarten class ready to begin the task of assembling get-well letters to kids who are at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City.

The children’s hospital and the university have gained national attention because fans and players at Iowa football games wave to the kids that reside in the hospital overlooking Kinnick Stadium.

Jarvill is a season ticket holder for Iowa football games and talked about the tradition that started during the 2017 season.

“When we turn to wave, I get a little teary-eyed every time I do it because it’s very emotional,” she said.

Jarvill said the color purple worn by faculty members and students also observed the struggle of many cancer victims that are no longer alive, including Ranae Hejna.

“Today is purple day in memory of the ones that we have lost,” said Jarvill.

Jarvill also said there were a couple IC students that are currently in cancer remission that were also honored by the purple wardrobe choice.

The service project to write the letters to the sick children exemplifies that to a tee, she said.

“One thing about IC is we really try to stress to our kids, all the way through, is we are here to serve others,” said Jarvill.

The weather Thursday – which reached 30 degrees – was a welcome change from the sub-zero temperatures that postponed all but one day of Catholic Schools Week at IC last winter.

“This year we have been blessed. We are really celebrating and the kids are having such a great time – they do every year, though,” said Jarvill.

National Catholic Schools Week originated in 1974 and involves over 6,000 Catholic schools nationwide.

Today (Friday) IC School will hold its birthday party at 9 a.m. followed by a basketball game at 2 p.m. between students and staff. The IC PTO (Parent Teacher’s Organization) Father/Daughter Dance will take place at 6 tonight at the Columbus Club.