Northlands students use new skill to help Japan

 

VERGENNES — A connection made after one of the worst March snowstorms in Vermont history is the key to a Northlands Job Corps student project that is sending aid to Japan after one the worst natural disasters in its history.

A Northlands club that goes by the name Ladies of Success — it is essentially a mutual-support and social-activity group for a small number of female students on the Vergennes campus  — spearheaded a campus-wide student effort to make more than 1,000 paper origami cranes.

The Bezos Family Foundation has pledged to donate $2 for each crane toward earthquake and tsunami relief in Japan, and will use the cranes as part of an art installation in the island nation.

But the effort wouldn’t have been possible if not for the federal job training center’s long-standing program in which student volunteers help Vergennes residents shovel their driveways after snowstorms.

One member of that crew, Mendon’s Ashley Darby, 24, is also a member of Ladies of Success. After two feet or more of snow fell in March, Darby and her peers roamed the icy streets of Vergennes looking for those who needed help.

That’s when they met South Water Street resident Anne Humphrey.

“She was one of the people that were out trying to shovel their driveways out,” Darby said. “And she couldn’t do it. It would have taken her days to do it. So we did it and we talked to her.”

During that chat, Darby learned Humphrey was an accomplished origami artist. When the Ladies for Success wanted to do something for Japan, advisor JamieLee Kiley, a Sudbury resident, took a suggestion from the company that runs the Northlands center and checked out dosomething.org. There she discovered the Bezos foundation’s crane project.

“The students, they’re all tight on money, and so are staff these days,” Kiley said. “So we decided we would host making 1,000 cranes ... for the foundation.”

That’s where Darby’s earlier connection with Humphrey came in.

“It started out because she made these really cool origami boxes that I really liked. So I mentioned bringing that to campus and teaching us how to do it,” Darby said. “JamieLee just called her, and she came here to teach us. She’s a really nice woman.”

Humphrey came about two weeks ago and gave a group lesson, with plenty of individual attention.

After the training session, the Ladies for Success started with a more modest goal of about 50 cranes, the minimum for the Bezos foundation to pay for shipping. But the group last week decided to involve more students, and Kiley said at least 120 of the center’s 280 students tried the tricky folding involved.

A little more than half of the students succeeded, and it took three days late last week to hit the 1,000 mark, with the seven Ladies of Success and Kiley accounting for at least 300 of the total. As a reward for the accomplishment, students are being allowed to leave classes early this Thursday.

On Monday, the Ladies and a few friends were folding the last of their colorful paper inventory, which Northlands management agreed to purchase for them. The rest was already stored in three large, clear plastic bags, ready to be shipped sometime this week to the Bezos foundation.

“We have over 1,000. We’re working on our last bits of paper now,” Kiley said.

The students said they were happy to contribute their time to the cause, mostly in the afternoon after the 3:30 p.m. completion of their academic day.

“Japan helped us when we had Hurricane Katrina,” said Kayla Brown, a business technology student from Fort Ann, N.Y. “They helped us to restore New Orleans. So why not pay them back for helping us? It’s nice to be able to help out other countries and ... feel good about it after.”

Darby agreed.

“You know they’re going through a lot right now. They lost a lot,” Darby said. “I know money isn’t going to bring back the family members they lost, but it at least will probably help them rebuild, give them a little bit of hope.”

Of course, some students took to Humphrey’s training quicker than others. Both Brown and Darby folded about 50 four- to five-inch long cranes each, but for Darby it was a greater challenge. Her first took a half-hour, and she said her first really satisfactory result came just on Monday and took five minutes.

“It took me a few days to really get it down and do it on my own,” she said. “This is my first good one.”

Brown said it came more naturally for her.

“This one took me just a couple minutes to make. The better ones I’ve made took me five or six minutes because I actually took my time,” she said. “For me it wasn’t that hard to learn. Patience is a virtue when you’re making something like this.”

Most may have agreed with Brown. As she and Darby chatted, a friend of the group at another table said, “My first paper crane. I finally did it!”

Kiley said students rose to the challenge.

“It’s very difficult to make them,” she said. “They worked very hard. I’m proud of them.”

But given the need in Japan, Brown said it was the least they could do.

“The time flew by fast. We were just hanging out, talking and making paper cranes,” Brown said. “Before you knew it, we had 1,000 paper cranes in three days.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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