Friday, November 12, 1999

Kids' raking leaves brings joy to needy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two things happened in Rhonda Arent's front yard in Price Hill Thursday afternoon. One was rather minor, the other profoundly important. And they were the same thing: kids raking leaves.

        To a group of St. William School students, the school's annual program of raking their needy neighbors' yards was a chance to do some good and have some fun.

        To Ms. Arent, a 34-year-old nurse suffering from cancer that has spread from her spine to her left lung and kidney, it was a gesture that meant the world.

        “I could cry,” she said with a smile as she stood on her Sunset Avenue front porch, watching a team of students from the neighborhood grade school rake and bag leaves from her yard.

        “I looked out my window and there were, like, 20 kids out there,” she recalled. “Oh my God, this helps me so much. It was a real effort just to plant flowers around the trees, let alone rake leaves.”

        Ms. Arent, a single mother of an 8-year-old daughter, Courtni, is on a kidney transplant list. She underwent chemotherapy on Monday and on Thursday received medication for the severe nausea that typically accompanies the treatment.

        She didn't expect Thursday to be a good day.

        It wasn't.

        It was wonderful — but not just for her.

        “I just wanted to help out, and also get out of doing homework early,” a smiling fifth-grader, Marianne Borgerding, said as she and sixth-grader Melissa Manley piled leaves into a bag on Ms. Arent's driveway.

        “We want them to be aware of the needs of people around them,” explained Wendy Wenzle, a fifth-gradeteacher at St. William and adviser to the student council.

        About 60 of the school's 400 students are on council, from grades four through eight. The leaf-raking project was a brainstorm of the council four years ago, as a gesture to the school's neighbors. It has become an annual thing. St. William Church was founded in 1909 and is a community fixture.

        Most of the neighbors helped Thursday — about 40 students brought their own rakes from home — were elderly, but some, such as Ms. Arent, are ill and unable to do yard work.

        Earlier this month, students went door-to-door asking residents for any extra post-Halloween candy, which they donated to homeless shelters.

        Part of the goal, Ms. Wenzle said, “is so people in our parish could see there are good kids out there. You see a lot in the news about kids that's bad, but there's also a lot that are good. They're a bright future.”

        Ms. Arent came out to thank the students, making sure to put on a hat before she did. Asked about her illness, she softly told Marianne, “I have cancer, sweetheart.”

        The kids grew quiet, no longer tossing leaves into the air. They went back to work.

        Ms. Arent went back to smiling.


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