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Ontario English Catholic Teachers

Resilience

How a student became a fairy godmother

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Tammy Vallieres began the COMPASSionate Crew Program while she was the faith and Youth ambassador at St. Frances Cabrini School in Delhi, Ontario. Its goal was to Empower students to demonstrate leadership roles in generosity compassion, responsibility and social justice. One of the key aspects of the COMPASSionate Crew are monthly Compass of Life Assemblies social and emotional wellness gatherings that help spotlight the humanitarian work that students take part in around the school and wider community.

Not long after the Compass of Life Assemblies started, they took on a special importance in the life of St. Frances Cabrini student Kaitlyn Hantz. At the age of nine, she was suddenly paralyzed due to a rare autoimmune disorder called transverse myelitis. Upon her return to school, attending the assemblies helped Kaitlyn realize that she could use her situation to help other students get through challenges they're dealing with — all thanks to a very special wish. Below, Tammy, who now works at Sacred Heart School in Paris, Ontario, and Kaitlyn, explain how Kaitlyn turned into a fairy godmother to help inspire others.

Tammy Vallieres

COMPASSionate Crew really started in my home room. I started to use the gospel of the day for our literary responses. It wasn't anything too serious at first, I was just asking them to reflect on the big idea of the passage — how it related to them and how it related to the world. This caused one of the biggest transformations I'd ever seen in a class. Thinking about these things, honestly, it went well beyond the class — you could see a change in their headspace, their relationships, behaviours and interests in these topics.

I really think the assembly is the heart of the school — it's where everyone comes together, almost like a family around the dinner table. But I felt like assemblies were focused a lot more on academics and sports, and these real Christian humanitarian acts of empathy and kindness, those sorts of virtues, often got missed. And that's what we want to lead with, right? Kaitlyn started attending the assemblies when she got back to school. And her mother told us that they helped her to see that her body might have changed but her faith, love, and kindness all remained the same. She began to realize that if she opened up, and shared her story like others were, this might inspire even more students to open up as well. It all came to a head after one assembly, which featured a child from the Make a Wish Foundation. I happened to go up to Kaitlin after and asked, 'If I could grant you one wish, what would that be?' And she said, 'Ms Vallieres, it would be to be a fairy godmother, so I could grant other children their wishes.'

That really called to my heart, to see how we could make her wish come true. We had children in some of the classes draw her as a fairy godmother, so she could see it. And we reached out to the Abby Fund, which makes dresses children design that they can wear. So we got to turn her into a fairy godmother. Now she's learning how to mentor others, so she can keep spreading that hope. She is so unique and she's gone through so much and yet she handled it with the most grace and humility and positive attitude.

Kaitlyn Hantz

I would love to be a fairy godmother, because I would love to make other kids' dreams possible. I love to give anything, and to give happiness would be the best thing in the world. After I told her that, Tammy got the whole class to draw a picture of what I would look like if I was a fairy godmother. They were adorable. They were so cute.

So many people have gotten paralyzed and had their life fall apart — they just give up and stop living. I was so young when it happened, but I was able to be as happy as I am now, and I want to help other people from not falling back into that despair and help them be as happy as I am. I try to show people that life doesn't stop when something bad happens — you just have to change your path and try a different way. People think that's nice. They love that message. The people that don't, I just keep trying, and sometimes it works and they end up accepting it. Sometimes they don't, but I still try.

 
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Tammy knew that as amazing as Kaitlyn was, she was likely no alone. That there were other students out their drawing on their own personal strength and resilience to impact change, and empowering others to do the same. She felt these stories needed to be told.

To that end, this fall, Tammy, along with Jen Fitzpatrick and Susan Howson, have launched a book Awaken Your Inner Hero; 100 Inspiring Stories of Youth Heroes Across Canada and Their Mentors, Teachers, Coaches and Advocates.

The book is a celebration of ‘youth heroes,’ kids who are passionate about being change agents and leaders on important and topical issues, and the adults who inspire them.

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