East Middle School kids learn the power of origami cranes

DOWNEY - The idea for "Wings of Hope," a special project of East Middle School in which students, staff and parents collaborated in folding at least 1,000 origami cranes to be presented to the patients at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles came to EMS sixth grade counselor Carrie Redfox after she shared the book, "Sadako and the Thousand Cranes," with her two boys, Josh (12) and Jake (9), last Christmas.As Carrie (husband George teaches photography at Warren High and is the president of the Downey Museum of Art and the Downey Conservancy) tells it, the story is about a Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was exposed to radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WWII. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury. (The crane is recognized in Japan as one of the mystical or holy creatures, along with, among others, the dragon and the tortoise, and is regarded as the bird of happiness and wisdom; it also represents a form of healing and hope.) Sure enough, Sadako developed leukemia from the radiation and, inspired by the Japanese legend, began making origami cranes. Her objective: one thousand origami cranes. Sadly, according to the more popular version of the story, Sadako died before realizing her goal. The fact that the school has been taking part the past two Christmas seasons in the toy drive conducted by the Beating Hearts Foundation by donating toys as well as books to CHLA had something to do with the crystallization of the idea in Carrie's mind. An even earlier, and more significant, element occurred five years ago when Carrie's mom, Leah, was diagnosed with cancer and Carrie says she felt "scared, sad, confused and helpless." Even then, she says, "It became my main goal to help give her hope." Moreover, she wondered, there are some people out there who have faced the same or similar situation as her. How do you, she asked, provide hope for people in need, especially children? The confluence of the cumulative impacts of these seemingly random events-son Jake even dreamt up the phrase 'Wings of Hope'-finally led to the launching of the project last February 15, her idea fully formed, and her plan for its execution completed. Everyone in school or connected with the school would be urged to join in "a charitable experience"-the Wings of Hope program-which was to be based on the Sadako story. They would each be given an opportunity to purchase a paper crane for $1.00. In the form of a 'gram', each participant would send a message of hope or dedication to a friend or loved one on the wings of the crane. The goal was to collect a total of $1,000 and this would be donated to CHLA. The cranes would be strung on strings (some 25 strings of 40 cranes each, say), hung on a crane tree, and eventually delivered, along with the collected money, sometime this month at CHLA to "inspire hope in its patients so they'll know their recovery is being wished." A promotional campaign would support the project, including an information piece on ES1 (the school's broadcast system), a tape showing a student step-by-step directions for folding a paper crane, posters and announcements in the glass bulletin board, etc. The twin goals of folding 1,000 origami cranes and raising $1,000 were officially reached last Friday. More than two-thirds of the EMS student population are believed to have taken part in the project, as well as staff, and parents, mostly by themselves, snatching moments here and there (at lunch or snack time, after school, etc.), in which to do them; in some cases, whole classes made origami cranes as a class project. The whole project contained an element of fun, while ingraining the spirit of charity, of compassion for people who are sick and in the hospital, of giving, to use Jake's words as they celebrated Christmas, "to those children who are less fortunate than ourselves." In the school library on Friday gathered a number of mostly sixth graders and a few teachers and staff (principal Brent Shubin joined in later), with Carrie overseeing everything, to make the final 'push' towards 1,000 origami cranes. You have to craft one origami piece to appreciate the level of difficulty in making one, especially it it's your first time. With the help of the kids across the table, I'm proud to say I was able to make my very first origami. The sixth graders present all expressed similar sentiments. One was Sumai Yah, who said her dad was from Bangladesh while her mom was from Guatemala. Two were from South Korea-Janice Yi and Amy Wong. There were the twin brother and sister Nick and Sophia Correa, who said: "I love making cranes. It's fun, especially we're helping people." Mikayla Bisson: "I think it's really good that we're helping people, especially the kids who are in the hospital." A lone seventh grader was also present, Eileen Garrido, who was a heart patient at CHLA, the first time as a baby, the second time when she was a month-old, and then as a one-year old; today a picture of health, she still reports every 6 months for a checkup at the hospital. She said: "I feel wonderful inside because the kids [at the hospital] expect to get some good luck. My mom is happy and feels wonderful about it all. And she thanks Mrs. Redfox for the project." The following day, there was this big smile of satisfaction on Carrie's face. "I'm glad our crane tree is done and ready to go," she said, adding it was the first time she undertook such a project. She realizes it was a project of caring, of compassion, of giving of oneself. It was a lesson in gratitude, too, one might add, for Carrie's mom is now cancer-free.

********** Published: April 5, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 51