Worcester High School Students Donate Proceeds from Poetry Anthology to Worcester Together fund
Gifts of all shapes and sizes helped the Greater Worcester Community Foundation raise more than $10 million from residents and organizations across Worcester County. Here is one story of a donation sparked by the writings of high school poetry students in the era of COVID-19.
It’s not only bandages and antibiotics that heal a community during times of unease. Remedies can also be found in self-expression.
Poetry was just such a therapy for students in Aaron Stephenson’s Spanish classes.
Earlier this month, the Foundation received a note from Stephenson, a teacher and academic partnership coordinator at Worcester Academy, accompanying a $400 donation to the Worcester Together fund. In April, national poetry month, inspired by Juan Matos, Worcester’s poet laureate, among other poets, the students wrote prose in Spanish which Stephenson collected. “Poetry for a Cause” is a more-than-220-page collection of odes, remembrances, and reflections.
Its dedication reads: “To all of the heroes, visible and invisible, in blue and every color, who are responding with a helping hand during this crisis.”
In April, after studying the works of Matos, among other notable Spanish-speaking poets including Pablo Neruda, Stephenson knew sharing the students’ writing with the community would have a two-fold benefit during the era of COVID-19.
“Poetry is a way to explore emotions, thoughts, and observations about the universe and to reflect on our place in it,” wrote Stephenson in the anthology’s introduction.
First, the students, most of whom spent the latter half of the semester learning from home, could reconnect with the community which was similarly suffering the effects of the pandemic and quarantine. Throughout the year, the AP students involved had been transcribing testimonies for the Worcester Latino History Project and regularly interacted with the Spanish-speaking community nearby the school.
“I was feeling trapped in my house,” said Stephenson of the quarantine period. “It was a desire to do something to help the community which led me to the Worcester Together fund – one of the most prominent general funds around.”
Second, by partnering with Matos, who appeared in a YouTube video with the students, awareness could be raised for local poets.
“No, the students didn’t start writing poetry” with the aim of creating an anthology, said Stephenson. In fact these were regular homework assignments. But, as the pandemic progressed and members of the community became increasingly isolated, the students were onboard.
“There was a crisis in our community,” said Stephenson, and the students stepped up.
The second half of the money donated by anthology readers was given to Net of Compassion – a Worcester Together fund grant recipient and Foundation partner – which runs a homeless shelter and offers food and other necessities to those in need. Net of Compassion was contracted by the City of Worcester to administer the homeless shelters established temporarily in the city’s public high schools during the quarantine.