With the help of school nurse Lisa Morin-Plante, St. Mary’s students collected more than 2,000 gifts for needy children.
LYNN — Lisa Morin-Plante estimates that 100 percent of St. Mary’s students participate in Christian service in one way or another.
“It permeates our halls,” Morin-Plante, the school nurse, said of the spirit of selflessness displayed by students and staff. “You can’t help but be part of the chain reaction of compassion and kindness.”
With participation like that from students, you have to figure there are at least a few adults setting a good example and coordinating all the service projects. Morin-Plante is at the head of that line.
“It’s rewarding knowing we make a difference in people’s lives,” said Morin-Plante, who is in her 11th year at St. Mary’s. “Seeing joyful people, you get something back.”
While service is a year-round effort at St. Mary’s, it predictably reaches a peak at Christmas. As part of the Rachel’s Challenge program – in which up to 150 students come to school at 7 a.m. every Tuesday to plan service initiatives – Morin-Plante coordinates the Christmas Project, a significant undertaking intended to collect presents for children in need.
This year, St. Mary’s students and staff, along with staff from Camp Winaukee in New Hampshire, where Morin-Plante works in the summer, provided more than 2,000 gifts worth more than $30,000 to approximately 215 children, age newborn to 21. Gifts were distributed to several agencies including Catholic Charities, the Plummer Home, local YMCAs and an orphanage in New Hampshire. About a dozen St. Mary’s students also received gifts based on their needs, according to Morin-Plante, who said the gifts include necessities as well as toys and other special items.
“Every child gets a toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, underwear, pajamas and a gift card,” she said. “The Rachel’s Challenge students will partner with other students or staff to buy for a particular child. Each recipient this year got $100-$125 worth of gifts.”
Morin-Plante is quick to point out that the monetary value of the presents is not important. “We give away bundles of love,” she said. “The feeling you get is priceless. People have kindness and compassion in their hearts, and they want to help others.”
St. Mary’s Head of School Grace Cotter Regan said the school is fortunate to have someone like Morin-Plante driving the Christian service bus. “Nurse Lisa is a gem,” Regan said. “She embodies our Pillars for Success – Catholic, Excellence, Integrity, Respect. Her leadership by example is contagious. We are lucky to have her.”
Regan said that in addition to students, St. Mary’s faculty, staff, board, alumni and friends participate in the Christmas Project, thus mirroring the mission of Rachel’s Challenge, which is to start a chain reaction of kindness.
Morin-Plante said she is far from a one-woman show when it comes to fostering the spirit of service. She credits fellow staffers Pat Gill, Andrea Alberti, Jeff Newhall and Joe Gill, among others, with helping her carry out the mission.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the staff,” she said. “We are fortunate to have buy-in at all levels. That’s why we have the best Christian service program.”
St. Mary’s students participate in a myriad of service projects throughout the year including serving meals at My Brother’s Table, baking breads and delivering them to the elderly, collecting hats and mittens, and holding a baby shower for expectant mothers.
Prior to coming to St. Mary’s, Morin-Plante worked in geriatric care. She has seven children, so she can appreciate the importance of providing gifts to children who might otherwise not receive anything at Christmas.
“There are so many bad things going on in the world,” she said. “We’re doing things for the goodness of it.”