By Jen Butson
Observer correspondent

For 4-year-old Sydney Gickman, giving up the money saved for a class pet in order to help people who lost their home was just the right thing to do.

Across Williston, children of all ages are finding numerous ways to earn money for families and animals affected by Hurricane Katrina.

At the daycare center of American International Distribution Corp. (AIDC), a classroom of 4-year-olds held a bake sale, built bird boxes and forewent the purchase of a turtle in efforts to raise $147 to donate to the American Red Cross.

Becky Blais, director of AIDC daycare, said the class started making bird boxes and having a bake sale to raise money for a pet turtle, but when the children were told of the tragedy, they wanted to help.

“Their teacher Judy Smith was trying to educate the students about how if you want something, work for it,” she said. “They selflessly gave money they worked hard to earn to people who needed it more than they did.”

David Gickman, Sydney’s father, said that what was really special about the classroom effort was that it was a decision made by a few children who worked with their teachers to act on an idea they had. “Their teacher Judy Smith made one comment to the children about how Hurricane Katrina left people’s homes underwater and the children decided to help on their own,” he said.

The children at AIDC experienced both sides of the giving spirit – in the end they received their classroom turtle. Local radio show hosts Lana Wilder and John Nolan of WEZF-FM heard about the children’s efforts and presented the daycare class with a turtle.

Sydney Gickman remembered the lesson she learned about working for others and teamwork. “All of my friends at my daycare built bird boxes for people,” she said. Happy to have a new class pet, she also made a point to talk about where he lives. “His name is Bubbles and his home is in the water,” she said.

Duncan Yandell, a freshman at Champlain Valley Union (CVU) High School, travels to Church Street in Burlington with his mother, Lauren Yandell, to utilize his talent as a musician in an effort to earn money for Katrina victims.

“I just go down and play for 45 minutes to an hour on the weekends," Duncan said. "I put up a sign that lets people know I am playing for Katrina victims and sometimes I'll get a $10 donation."

Lauren Yandell explained that her son performs because he loves to play and being in a family with three dogs, he wants to help animal relief efforts.

“As a kid raising money, what Duncan earns in just an hour amounts to a lot,” she said.

He plans to play for at least two more weekends and then make a donation to the Humane Society.

A member of CVU’s music program and the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association, Duncan plays the violin and fiddle and knew that he could put his skills to use.

"I have been playing the fiddle for around six years," he said. "I haven't been to New Orleans and I don't know much about it, but I know it's just important to help."

Duncan estimated that he has raised almost $200 performing jigs and reels, different Celtic types of songs.

Cassie Green, 10, put on her walking shoes and embarked on a door-to-door campaign with her mother, Susie Green.

The two have covered the Highland Drive and Oak Hill Road areas of Williston and earned $300, of which $200, Susie Green donated straight to the Humane Society at its Web site:

The Greens decided to bring the other $100 to Guy’s Farm and Yard, a registered Blue Seal feed dealer For one week, the store matched donations received with supplies.

“Everyone has been wonderful and almost everyone we approached donated,” Susie Green said. “We will keep it up now that it has hit parts of Texas, too.”

Cassie said that she saw what happened on the news and knew that she needed to help the animals. “I have two dogs and two cats,” she said. “I love animals and there’s a lot of people donating to the Red Cross for humans, so we wanted to help the animals.”

A Student Council member at the Williston Central School, Cassie intends to approach the Council with a plan to send a portion of the money that the school’s coin collection campaign has earned to the Humane Society.

Enrichment teacher for the Williston School District and Student Council advisor Richard Allen said that the coin collection has proven to be effective and also an easy way for the schools and students to get involved.

With jugs placed around the school in classrooms and the main office, students, staff and teachers can donate through the end of October.

“We did a similar drive last year for victims of the tsunami and earned $1,700,” Allen said. “It’s a simple thing to do; the work just comes in getting it counted.”

Allen said the Student Council researches where the money should go, on a basis of how much goes to direct aid versus administration costs and then they take a vote. Last year, the money was divided between three nonprofits.