La Mesa Middle-Schoolers Band Together to Help Children Suffering in Ukraine War

Seventh-graders Faith Poling and Addie Tayco show off their work for Ukraine children. Photo via St. Martin of Tours Academy

Children worldwide are bearing witness to the war in Ukraine, thanks to social media and readily accessible news stories. Moved by what he saw, East County seventh-grader Ian Kunde took action to help Ukrainian kids.

“I don’t agree with the war in Ukraine, and I don’t want kids who had no part in it to suffer,” said Kunde, who attends St. Martin of Tours Academy, a Catholic school in La Mesa. “In the beginning, I received permission from my school principal to wear a blue and yellow wristband because I wanted to show my support.”

Rather than just wear a band, however, Kunde and his mother, Nicole, made blue-and-yellow ribbons to distribute among his classmates to wear on their shirts.

“From there, the idea only got bigger,” said the 13-year-old El Cajon resident.

Kunde’s social studies teacher, Liana Zoni, had been discussing the war in Ukraine with her middle-school students, and they began making bracelets after observing sixth-graders wearing “loom” bracelets of colorful rubber bands.

“I thought: ‘Why don’t the kids make loom bracelets in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, then sell them to raise money for schoolchildren in the Ukraine?’” Zoni said.

“Because Ian inspired our school community with his initial making of the blue-and-yellow ribbons, I asked him to pick a charity that would fit our fundraiser best.”

He chose Save the Children, which Zoni called a fantastic recommendation.

“The proceeds from our sales will provide immediate aid to children who are in need of basic necessities such as food and water, and even psychological support services,” Zoni said.

A flier promoted fund-raiser for Ukraine children.

Zoni said she was “blown away” by the determination of her sixth- and seventh-graders.

“On the day we decided to hold a fundraiser, about 15 students gathered in my classroom at lunch and began brainstorming how they were going to produce at least 200 bracelets in less than a week,” Zoni said.

“They worked on the bracelets during their recess and lunch periods, after school, and on the weekend — a true labor of love. We even had a couple students in charge of marketing the sale day. They created posters and wrote speeches to read to every class on campus.”

Although Principal Jennifer Miller was not surprised by the students’ call to action, she said she was taken by the dedication and hard work the kids invested in making a high volume of loom bracelets and keychains during their lunch break and after-school hours.

“St. Martin of Tours Academy encourages social justice projects such as these,” Miller said. “As a Catholic school, we follow The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. From kindergarten all the way through eighth grade, students participate in raising money for students who may not have everything they need to learn and grow.”

During the school year, students take part in collecting nonperishable food, blankets, socks and money, Miller said. The academy encourages students to use their creativity to think of ways to earn money, often by doing good deeds or extra chores as opposed to asking their parents to give them money.

St. Martin of Tours Academy middle school teacher Liana Zoni is surrounded by Sophie Arthur, Quinn Suzuki, Yang Li, Viola Ramirez and Ian Kunde. Photo by Genevieve Suzuki

And while parents may not have simply given money for the cause, they did donate all supplies for the fundraiser.

“The social justice advocates politely asked their parents for permission to head to a local crafting store and gather the implements and rubber bands needed to create the loom bracelets,” Zoni said.

During a single lunch period, the class made just over $1,000, she said.

“This is all thanks to our amazing school community,” Miller said. “So many students and their families donated much more than the cost of a bracelet. We were speechless and so grateful.”

The experience has inspired Kunde to continue working for good causes.

“It was really cool to work with all my friends on this,” he said. “It was fantastic to still see all the good in the world.”

Genevieve A. Suzuki is a lawyer and resident of La Mesa.

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