NEW YORK – While the 11th day of each month has become an anniversary of anguish for many people, a group of students is working to turn that notorious date into an occasion for good.
A group at Madison High School in Madison, Neb., desperately wanting to contribute to the nation's healing following the attacks in September, established the Eleventh Day Heroes organization to channel their compassion. The students began performing good deeds in their local communities on the 11th of each month, turning their grief into positive energy.
"It gives us all a really good feeling inside knowing we can help others with community service," said sophomore Jenni Jurgens, 16. "The president gave a speech a while back saying he likes the way people are helping out in the communities and it made us feel good that he said that. We sent him an e-mail saying we're helping out.”
About 25 students volunteer each month. Among their deeds: raking leaves, picking up trash for a teacher who has cancer, organizing a blood drive, cleaning ambulances at the local fire house, and scrubbing graffiti off the walls of a senior center.
The group then began sending out e-mails to other schools around the nation, asking them to take up the cause. More than 20 schools have already established their own programs, and there are more on the way.
"I truly believe that when young people start hearing about this they will want to contribute," said Robert Ziegler, superintendent of Madison Public Schools. "Our goal is to get 15,000 schools to start similar programs."
Sarah Warren, principal of Madisonville Intermediate School in rural Texas, said she became inspired after visiting her adult daughter in Nebraska.
"I read about the school's program in the local paper and I thought it was such a neat idea," she said. "So I took the article back to my school and shared it with the students. They were excited by it and wanted to start their own monthly service."
On Nov. 11, Madisonville kicked off its program by planting pansies around war monuments in the town square. A month later, they took baskets filled with candy and fruit to a nursing home and strolled down the halls singing carols.
"Each month they are learning as well as giving to the community," said Warren, who gives educational talks related to the activities. "They are learning how to show compassion towards others and have willingness to help, how to give of yourself without expecting anything in return."
Madisonville is also trying to pass the philanthropic torch throughout Texas by e-mailing the 300 other schools in its region. "The kids are also designing Eleventh Hero T-shirts that they can wear to school on the day each month," Warren said.
Educators said they are thrilled to see their students turn the date of infamy into a more positive action of community service.
"The kids know this is important and when they feel they are making a difference in their community it lifts their spirits and self-esteem," said Ziegler. "The date does have a sad connotation to some extent, but we want to honor the people and make the memory a proud one."
Schools or student groups interested in learning more about 11th Day programs may contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.