Friday, July 26, 2019

Preschoolers run ‘marathon’ to raise money for RSU14 Backpack Program

Students at Birchwood Day Nursery School
By Lorraine Glowczak

Organizations – whether they are businesses, religious or otherwise, will rise to the call and make sure others in dire circumstances are given a hand when life throws them a curveball. Is this an innate response or is it nurtured by those who teach us well? Or is it both?

The answers are probably best addressed by sociologists, anthropologists and educational psychologists. Whether it is intrinsic or not, all this reporter knows is the three, four and five-year-olds at Birchwood Day Nursery School on River Road in Windham raised over $7,000 at their eighth annual marathon fundraising event which consists of running around a designated track in the school’s front yard on April 23 and 24. The 3-year-olds participated in a dance-a-thon.

The funds raised were donated to the RSU14 Backpack Program. In the process, the students not only learned about service to others, but also learned the importance of personal health and exercise. And they did so with passion and excitement.“We talked about four important aspects to health,” stated Heather Marden, teacher and inspiration of the program. “Eating healthy, drinking water, exercise and getting the right amount of sleep were discussed often and a part of our curriculum study to prepare for the run. The only thing is, they didn’t know they were learning because they were having so much fun.”

Prior to the marathon, the students not only discussed healthy personal living habits but also what it takes to be a part of a healthy community. When asked what he learned the most about participating in the marathon and giving back to others, student Connor McGovern said, “Sometimes when you run, you fall down. When friends fall down, you help them back up so they can keep running.” 

Student Easton McDonnell quickly added, “Sometimes when you fall down, it hurts really bad so you need to get a cold pack so people can feel better.”

If there is one way to encourage children to think about others in need “when they fall”, this certainly was one way to do it as it seemed to leave an impression.

Marden explained that the annual event is filled with excitement as they mark the running path with flags and balloons, not only with the children but former students as well. “When we start putting the flags and balloons up, former students who are now a part of our after-school program, recall their own fond memories of the event. We even have them come to speak to the children about their experiences as part of our curriculum activities and preparations.”

The event included visitors such as Crusher, the mascot from Maine Red Claws and the boys’ basketball team from Saint Joseph’s College. “We also invited Chef Ryan from RSU14,” explained Marden. “He spoke to us a bit about how important the backpack program is and to show us what type of healthy foods go into the backpacks, giving students sample foods to try.”

The marathon also brings out the spectators with the sidelines filled with moms, dads, uncles, aunts, siblings and grandparents, cheering on their favorite three, four and five-year olds as they run, fall and help others get back up.

The following are a few influences, lessons learned and favorite aspects from the four-lap front yard marathon participation:

“Getting a medal by Dr. Rhoads, Principle of Windham Primary School,” Mason Cieslak
“Seeing my dad,” Easton Secord
“Drinking the water,” Aria Celeste
“Eating oranges with my grammy and uncle,” Amelia Wildes
“Running around the preschool looking at the flags and balloons,” Jack Moriarty
“We have to stretch our muscles to warm them up,” Charlee Prokey perhaps the most important aspect from the marathon event is the impression it makes on the parents. “We have parents who thank us for helping the community,” began Connie DiBiase, Birchwood’s Director. “One parent told us how important it was – and how he could identify what it is like not to have enough food as a child – and now he feels like he gets to help other children and families.”

Heather Marden stated that they wanted to target children in the Windham Community. “When deciding what organization to serve, it made sense to us to give to the RSU14 Backpack Program – focusing in on the fact that hunger does exist in our community and taking that as a learning experience on what it takes to live a healthy life.”

The children raised enough money to provide food for over 35 students.

“The Backpack Program couldn't survive without the continued support of businesses and organizations such as Birchwood Day Nursery School,” stated Program Coordinator of the Backpack Program. “They have helped us provide a financial stability in the program. I also hope that these little people will learn to be caring, giving community members thanks to the Nursery School and their parents and caregivers involvement in this fundraiser that they do yearly. I couldn't be more appreciative.”

A special thanks goes to Marden and DiBiase, along with all the Birchwood staff, for their dedication to our youth and teaching as well.

For more information about the Backpack Program, contact Marge Govoni at To make a donation, ensuring that the food insecure children of the Windham and Raymond communities are nourished and well fed, mail check or money order noting which program you are donating too, to the following address: School Nutrition Program, 228 Windham Center Road, Windham,04062.

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