Young girls grow in virtue

It was the end of the day at St. Bernadette School in Springfield, and most students were flooding out the doors. But not everyone was so eager to leave. A group of second- and third-grade girls clamored up the steps to a top floor classroom for Virtue Club, a program that teaches about virtues in a fun and hands-on environment.

The club came about through the hard work of a mother-daughter duo, Melissa Pohlmeier and her eldest daughter, Rebecca. Melissa had wanted to start a club like this for a long time, but between her pregnancies and taking care of young children at home, the timing didn't seem to work out. Then last June, Melissa was diagnosed with cancer and realized she would not be able to start the club. Rebecca surprised her mom by saying, "Well, I can do it." Rebecca got to work bringing her mother's vision to life, while Melissa focused on getting well.

Since the school already had a Virtue of the Month program, Rebecca decided to pair each month's virtue with a female saint and craft. By the time she presented the proposed program to the principal, she had a binder full of lesson plans, craft ideas and sample scrap book pages. Her idea was approved.

The next step was to invite students to join the club. She decided to open it up to second-graders preparing for their first holy Communion and third-graders who have just received the sacrament. At first, Rebecca anticipated around five or six would join. So when the Little Sisters of the Poor sent her 31 books on their founder, St. Jeanne Jugan, for a lesson on respect, Rebecca and Melissa thought they would have lots of extras. They were stunned by the interest from the students, and the club now has exactly 31 members.

"St. Jeanne Jugan said that if God fills a home, He will not abandon it," said Melissa. "We started saying, 'Well, if God fills Virtue Club, He will not abandon it.'"

The students' enthusiasm for the club has only increased over the course of the school year.

"I like that we make all these activities and everyone is so nice," said third-grader Blanche Landry, who decorated a bird house with a quote by St. Jeanne Jugan. "(St. Jeanne) helped the sick when no one else would."

The fun activities and friendly environment put the girls at ease. During craft time at a recent meeting, one of the girls started to sing a hymn and was joined by her classmates. When the song was over, the girls continued quietly with their work. Eighth-grade volunteer Lucy Landry said to Rebecca, "I have no idea what just happened, but (I'm) pretty sure the Holy Spirit was just here."

The group also provides the students with an opportunity for quality time with the older girls. Susan Albert, one of the parent volunteers, said she has seen the positive effects the club has had on her daughter. "She is really receptive to the message, because it comes from older kids they see in the hallway and she looks up to them. She is really motivated to memorize a verse or think about it, because she wants to do it for Rebecca."

Rebecca says she is having the time of her life and is learning just as much as she is teaching at the monthly meetings.

"I have always wanted to be a teacher when I grow up, and it has given me an area where I can just be myself around younger kids," said Rebecca. "The girls make my day. When they come up to me in the halls and give me a hug or say 'Hi Rebecca! When is our next Virtue Club?' it just makes my day to know that they are excited about it."

Next month, the girls will make heart-shaped soap for the virtue of forgiveness. It is a lesson that Rebecca hopes will resonate with the young girls and help keep both their hands and their hearts squeaky clean.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016