by Moira Cullings
LAWRENCE — When fires devastated the Hawaiian island of Maui in August, Kimberly Bell was stunned.
“My husband and I were in Maui just weeks before the tragedy,” she said, “and we loved our time in historic Lahaina.”
A personal connection made the damage even harder to witness.
“My family has a very special attachment to the islands,” said Bell, “as my husband was born in Honolulu and my grandma and uncle lived on Oahu for over 40 years.”
The fourth and fifth grade math teacher at St. John School in Lawrence wanted to help.
This fall, she and her students initiated Project Aloha.
The students have been designing and crafting personal cards of hope, love and inspiration for students at two Lahaina schools — King Kamehameha III Elementary School and Sacred Heart School — letting them know about their continued prayers.
They’ve also created more than 100 friendship bracelets for their friends across the ocean, listening to Hawaiian music while they work.
“Both schools we are supporting were completely and irreparably destroyed,” said Bell, “as well as a large portion of the students’ and staff’s homes.
“They have had to relocate to other schools or use facilities donated by locals for them to continue their learning.”
Sacred Heart is the parish school of Maria Lanakila, “the church that miraculously survived as everything around it was destroyed,” said Bell.
“Our students feel a special connection to Sacred Heart because of the shared faith,” she added, “and a bonus is they are the blue to our local Jayhawk red and yellow school colors.”
Several St. John students from various grades have offered personal items, handmade gifts and monetary donations to the schools. St. John also created an Amazon wish list of supplies needed to make bracelets and backpack key-chains, as well as other items.
A fourth grader even donated his own $100 dollar bill, said Bell.
“Our students absolutely warm my heart and want to help in any way they can,” she said. “The lesson of giving to those in need and paying forward the love, joy and peace in their hearts is what I hope to instill in my students above all.”
Bell said the Lahaina community will be rebuilding and recovering from the devastation for years to come.
She and her students plan to continue building a connection with the schools there throughout the school year.
“Sharing my deep love and connection to Hawaii with my students has been a blessing,” said Bell. “I am honored to keep my Grandma LaVona’s love for the islands alive by spreading that love.”
Those interested in helping St. John’s efforts can reach out to Bell online at: firstname.lastname@example.org; donate to Project Aloha through Venmo at: Kimberly- Bell-5; or send mail to: St. John School, Attn. Kimberly Bell, 1208 Kentucky St., Lawrence, KS 66044.
The Amazon wish list can be found online at: https://amzn.to/3T66Fek.