Editor's note: the following was first published in the Nov. 27, 2012 print edition of The Compass.
A unique event at Baccalieu Collegiate in Old Perlican that has been spotlighting exceptional people and organizations in our province for the past decade continued what has become a heart-warming and remarkable tradition on Nov. 22.
The annual Grade 8 hero celebration often leaves those who are on the receiving end of the tributes and thank-yous left speechless and awestruck.
This year's celebration was no different, as representatives from the newly opened Ronald McDonald House in St. John's sat in wonderment for more than an hour as students - clad in dark clothing, colourful ties and scarves - paid tribute to their efforts in song, skits, poetry and more.
They topped it off with a donation of $1,900 that was raised at the school, and three quilts that were painstakingly hand-crafted by students and a select group of nimble-fingered parents.
The money will help with the day-to-day operations of the house, while the quilts will be given to children as gifts when they check into Ronald McDonald House.
When Christine Morgan, the manager of development and communications with Ronald McDonald House, stepped to the microphone, she admitted to being "blown away" by what she had just witnessed.
Standing next to an oversized wooden replica of the charity's logo, crafted in the shape of a house with a heart rising from the chimney and two hands joined in the centre, Morgan said she did not expect such an elaborate, heartfelt and hospitable reception.
She praised the students for their efforts and thoughtfulness, and said she couldn't wait to return to the house and share all the details of what had taken place at Baccalieu Collegiate.
She also brushed off the "hero" tag, and said the students and others who made the celebration a reality are the true luminaries.
"You are the people that are making the Ronald McDonald House a reality," she said. "And for that, we say thank-you."
Weeks of preparation
The hero celebration was some eight weeks in the making, and required the efforts and co-operation of a large number of students, school staff, parents and others.
But it was the 28 Grade 8 students that ensured it was a success, said teacher Joan Kelly, who has been leading the effort through the years.
She said they were relentless in their determination to put together a first-class event, and never wavered, despite the long hours and sacrifices.
"They showed phenomenal leadership," said Kelly.
In a message to the parents and guardians, Kelly added: "You've got good kids, and it's a tribute to you that your kids are so willing to give back to their community."
Kelly said she's never seen such a positive response from the students during a fundraising effort.
One recent afternoon, some $190 was raised during a spontaneous collection, while nearly $400 was raised during last month's Baccalieu Idol talent competition.
"They know what (the Ronald McDonald House) is doing for kids and they want to be part of it," Kelly said.
'A wonderful job'
Among those sitting in the audience was Lisa Branton of Winterton, whose six-year-old son Kody was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Sept. 11.
She was flanked on either side by Kody and her 12-year-old son, Blake. Her husband, Jason, was away at work.
The Brantons were among the first families to stay at the Ronald McDonald House when it opened on Sept. 27, and know first-hand how beneficial it can be to families travelling from outside the St. John's area.
"Without that house, we don't know what we would have done," said Lisa. "To spend three weeks at a hotel, you just wouldn't be able to do it. So without those people building that house, we don't know where we would have been or what we would have done."
Like Morgan, Branton was amazed by what unfolded at the school.
"When you see students in Grade 8 put together something like this to honour something that's so important ... it means a lot to myself and to our family. They did a wonderful job."
Kody, who is painfully shy, began treatments on Sept. 12, and the leukemia has since gone into remission.
"He is doing really well," added Lisa.
Home away from home
In the past, the Grade 8s have paid tribute to a wide array of groups, including emergency responders, health care workers, the Canadian Red Cross, Lions Club members, parents, teachers and the Children's Wish Foundation.
As the hype was building in the days leading up to this year's event, students in older grades could be heard reflecting on their involvement with past hero celebrations.
The subject for this year's celebration was timely, since the Ronald McDonald House - the 12th in Canada - only opened its doors in late September.
It provides a home-away-from-home for families of seriously ill children who are being treated at nearby children's hospitals. The house was built at a cost of some $6.5 million, nearly all of which was raised during an extensive fundraising campaign that drew on the support of many thousands of people, organizations, businesses and corporations throughout the province.
The house is located just minutes from the Janeway Children's Hospital, and has provided accommodations for 40-plus families since it opened.
It is independently owned and operated by a not-for-profit organization, and has been dubbed "the house that love built."
"Love is what made it a reality, and I felt it here today," Morgan said.
A poetic thank-you
During their preparations for hero celebrations, the Grade 8s visited the house in mid-October, and were decidedly impressed by what they saw.
It was evidence in their poetry. Here's a segment from student Carissa Pike:
"A family's new home, somewhere to say;
As their child gets better, there's just no better way.
Thank-you Ronald McDonald House, for all the lives you've touched;
For all the things you don, thank-you so very much."