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Kingsbury cares

School reaches out to Boston, bombing victims

Kingsbury sixth-graders Ana Parker (left) and Ana Phillips decorate their squares on the Prayer Canvas, a national message of hope, support and unity dedicated to the victims and survivors of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombings. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
November 06, 2013 - "You are loved."

"We all feel your pain. We shall overcome it together."

"Keep calm and stay strong."

Those were just some of the positive messages that Kingsbury Country Day students wrote on a Prayer Canvas (see below) to help commemorate the one-year anniversary next year of the April 15 Boston Marathon terrorist bombings that killed three people and injured 264 others.

"Tragedy touches all of us," said Tom Mecsey, who's headed Kingsbury since 2008. "We thought this was a very positive way for us to reaffirm that we're all in this together and they have our support and love."

Launched in May in Naples, Florida as a way to show America's unity in the face of tragedy, the Prayer Canvas is a grassroots project to honor the Boston Marathon bombing victims and survivors as well as the City of Boston.

Canvases measuring 73-inches-by-6-yards are being sent all over the country. Each one is sectioned off into 340 squares measuring 6-inches-by-6-inches.

Adults and children (age 6 and up) are invited to put whatever they want in their square. They can write a prayer, message, well wishes, a name or a word. They can draw or paint a symbol or picture. They can even make their square a solid color or put their handprint on it if they choose.

"The color palette of the Prayer Canvas is red, white and blue to reflect our love for our country and our fellow man," according to the Prayer Canvas website "The idea is for it to be a symbol of America . . . big cities . . . small towns . . . every walk of life. Every state will be represented."

The canvases are currently touring the United States and will continue to do so until February 2014.

They will then be sewn together and presented to the City of Boston on the one-year anniversary of the bombings.

It's expected to be at least the size of a football field.

Each bombing victim will receive a mounted portion of the canvas, while the remainder will be hung in a public place as a memorial to all those impacted by the tragic event.

Kingsbury, a charter public school in Addison Township, has 340 squares to fill.

Of those, 179 were decorated by students. The rest are being filled by staff and parents.

Mecsey is hoping this exercise will teach Kingsbury students "compassion, empathy and that we're all connected."

Kingsbury was selected to participate in the Prayer Canvas by one of the project's charter members, Kim Bellestri.

Bellestri, 44, a former Oxford resident, sent her 9-year-old son, Shayne, to Kingsbury for a year back when he was a kindergartner.

"Kingsbury is one of those places that once you've been there, you have a heart-string connection to them," she said. "You are forever a part of them and they are forever a part of you. They are such a do-good school. They believe in community service. They believe in helping others. They believe in fund-raising. They believe in helping those that are less fortunate."

"I love, love, love that school," Bellestri continued. "It's just such a good-hearted school and this project just seemed to fit them perfectly."

It was Kari Wagner, founder of the Prayer Canvas project, that originally invited Bellestri, who now lives in Naples, Florida, and some others to help launch the project.

"I think (the Boston Marathon bombing) was such a senseless act of violence," Bellestri said. "We wanted to show that by doing something as simple as painting a message on a square, putting a handprint there or having a little kid draw a picture, it makes us stronger. We just wanted to show that as a country, we could come together."

At first, Bellestri said she viewed the project as a way for her to help a fellow mother at school.

But that all changed when she attended her first Prayer Canvas community event in Florida.

"The people coming up to sign it, they were breaking down in tears. They felt connected in doing something good," Bellestri said. "It was in that moment that I realized . . . what we were doing was really making a difference."

"Not everybody can donate money. Not everybody can fly out there and give their time. But everybody can sign a square to show that they care," she added.

As a mother, Bellestri is using her involvement in the Prayer Canvas project as a teachable moment for her sons.

"I'm trying to teach my boys that bad things can happen, but good will always prevail and it is our job to help those in need," she said. "And Boston needed to know that we as a country were there for them . . . one square at a time."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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