There is place in the courtyard of that provides a calmness in the midst of the hustle, bustle and hormones of a middle school.
Over the years, thousands of students have passed Maria's Garden — many of whom who did not know the genesis of this living memorial of a former 13-year-old CMS student. Principal Shelley Somers decided to use the garden's history to build a sense of community.
Somers said it was important to educate students about the events that led to the creation of the garden in Maria Fareri's memory and use it a way to connect to their peers who are in need of help. CMS students enthusiastically embraced the idea to hold various fund-raising activities that benefited Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY.
Somers said she envisioned the project would be about kids helping kids beyond "why do we do community service?" Back in 1995, CMS student Maria Fareri was hospitalzed at Westchester after being diagnosed with rabies. Maria's parents, Brenda and John, quickly realized that Westchester Medical Center, like many hospitals, was built at a time when families were not considered an important part of a patient's care.
After Maria died, her parents learned that she had made a special wish as part of a school project "for the health and well-being of all the children in the world." They embarked on establishing a children's hospital in their daughter's name which garnered the support of more than 20,000 people from surrounding communities.
Using a PowerPoint presentation about Maria, Somers showed the students that Maria was a CMS 8th grader who played field hockey, sang in the chorus and was a member the math team.
The Central Middle School Student Council visited the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital, which is the only hospital in the nation named after a child. The students had an opportunity to meet with Maria's mother Brenda and her sibilings as well as tour the facility where parents are not visitors but partners with the staff in the care of their children.
Somers said the students were so moved and inspired by their visit and she asked them to figure our a way to take that feeling back to Central.
To the teacher, every member of the staff has rallied behind what has quickly morphed into a "wonderful, unselfish giving time at Central," said Somers.
Through their Advisor Bases (which are similiar to homerooms) the students set out to devise their own ways to raise money and awareness in support of the hospital. Somers made it clear that this wasn't going to be "80 million bake sales." She asked them to brainstorm. Little did she know what she was unleashing. All of the events were devised, organized, advertised, run and supported all by the students themselves.
They crafted jewelry and wallets with duct tape; candy-grams delivered to friends and teachers; movie viewings with popcorn; Jolly Rancher raffles; "sponsor" morning songs, hot chocolate in the morning; for a small "donation" one day the students wore pajamas to school. One day students were allowed to wear baseball hats, and they collected spare change at lunch. Somers said that one student recently told her that he has been "saving his allowance and deciding every week" how to "spend" it during the effort that was called the Season of Giving.
The month recently culminated with Maria's Mile, a run/walk and a competitive one-mile race that attracted about 200 students.
Somers estimated that nearly $5,000 was raised to support the hospital's holiday "wish list" for children who spent the holiday season in the hospital.
What was previously occasionally viewed as a lovely pebble-covered sitting area of benches beneath trees is now respected in a very different way by more than 700 children who all now know exactly who Maria is and the special message that is her legacy.