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GAIL WHITE Teaching compassion through C.H.R.I.S.T.I.E.



Published: Fri, May 11, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



There is no better story as we near Mother's Day than that of a mother and 525 children.

Charn Creed is a first-grade teacher at Hilltop Elementary School in Canfield. As I walk into her classroom, I instantly recognize one of those "Totally Awesome Teachers."

Immediately, I become a lesson.

"Class, remember when we talked about journalists?" Creed asks. She refers to a book the class read.

The children nod their heads.

"Remember I told you journalists use flip-pad notebooks?" More heads nod.

With excitement in her voice, she continues. "Mrs. White is a journalist, and she has a flip-pad notebook to write down information!"

As if on cue, I hold up the pad, displaying the "Professional Reporter's Notebook" cover.

The children's eyes are wide. Their mouths are gaping.

A lesson has come to life.

Charn is making more than academic knowledge come to life for her pupils. She is teaching life lessons of compassion and caring as well.

Kids helping kids: In 1999, she created the C.H.R.I.S.T.I.E. Campaign. C.H.R.I.S.T.I.E -- and acronym for Children Helping Readers In Situations That Involve Everyone -- is best described by her pupils.

First-grader Danny Frazzini explains, "You read books and get the money [pledges]. And [then] buy books with the money and put them in a box."

"Then what happens?" I prompt.

"They bring them to children in the hospital and they feel better," he concludes.

Then he adds, "And I feel good."

Olivia Conti, another first-grader, read 90 books for the campaign. "Do you always read that much?" I ask.

"Yes," she replies, in a very proper and matter-of-fact manner.

First-grader Jimmy Rousher read "33 or something" books. "I read books so kids in the hospital could read a book and they wouldn't be bored," he says.

Ronnie Marley forgets how many books he read for the campaign. But he knows why he did it. "They get to read the book and take it home," he explains.

Grew from grief: The children throughout Hilltop Elementary understand the purpose for the C.H.R.I.S.T.I.E. Campaign.

But very few of them know the story behind the reading program.

Christie is the name of Charn's daughter who died of cancer in 1995. She was 6.

As Charn speaks of her child, there is a strength in her voice that comes from deep within. This is a woman who has grieved a most excruciating loss.

From her words, I come to understand that this is not something a parent "gets over."

As my eyes tear over listening to her story, Charn's remain dry. She has wept countless tears and is now determined not to live under her grief but rise beyond it and go on.

"When people have been so, so nice to you," she shares,"there comes a time to give back."

She explains how the C.H.R.I.S.T.I.E. Campaign idea began. "I reflected back on the long hours in the hospital, trying to keep a young child busy," she remembers. "Christie always wanted to go to school. She loved to read."

Now, 525 children read under her namesake.

Happy endings: Since the C.H.R.I.S.T.I.E. Campaign began three years ago, Hilltop Elementary pupils have raised more than $7,800 and donated in excess of 4,000 books to Forum Health Tod Children's Hospital.

"This program is successful because of these kids," Charn beams. "They have opened up their hearts."

Two and a half years ago, Charn and her husband, Don, opened up their hearts to a baby boy, born prematurely with mild cerebral palsy.

A picture of Daniel, their "big, young man," reveals a curly-haired, blond boy with chubby cheeks and a smile as wide as a rainbow.

And, like the ending to some of the stories that 525 Hilltop Elementary pupils read during the C.H.R.I.S.T.I.E. Campaign, "they lived happily ever after."




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