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'A compassionate spirit:' 11-year-old leads service project to support refugees in Jacksonville

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Eden, an 11-year-old student at The Discovery School in Jacksonville Beach, had checked out a book from her school library to see why her friends enjoyed it so much. The cover showed two, shoeless boys walking together in a desert landscape as dusk began to settle.


The background illustrated the quieting scene of refugee makeshift shelters, a mother seen walking her child home. Across the blanket of stars on the cover read, 'When Stars Are Scattered,' written by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. The graphic novel follows the true story of Somali refugee Omar and his stay at the refugee camps up to 2009, when he and his younger brother, Hassan, resettled to the U.S.

Eden was inspired to help local refugees after reading "When the Stars Are Scattered," written by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed.

After reading through the journey of the boys and their story of resettlement, Eden felt moved and wanted to find a way to help refugees resettling in her community.


“I felt so sad that the people were running away,” Eden said. “And I just felt sad for everything that happened to the refugees. If I had known about this sooner, I would have definitely helped.”


So Eden took action.


With the help of her mother, Jennifer, Eden learned about the refugee services offered at Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida. In 2022, the agency provided comprehensive support to 2,488 refugees, which included assisting over 500 Ukrainian parolees.


In January, Discovery School students gathered in Circle to talk about what they did over the weekend. Eden shared that she learned more about refugees and that her and her mother were finding a way to support them in Jacksonville.


Her comment piqued the interest of one of her teachers, Language arts teacher Ms. Amba Kone. She told Eden to keep herself and the class in the loop of a potential service project.


To coincide with the first 100 days of school, Eden and her class banded together to raise 100 food items for refugee families. The students surpassed their goal by collecting over 170 food items for refugee families.



Eden (middle holding plaque) stands with her classmates and teachers at The Discovery School in Jacksonville Beach.


And the students didn’t stop there. To further welcome the new arrivals, the class spent their Worldly Wednesday hour creating welcoming and positive messages to the new arrivals.


Some of the messages read:


“We hope you like Jacksonville, we’re very grateful to help you!”


“We welcome you with open arms.”


“If you are looking for a school, try coming to the Discovery School!”


The messages are being sent home to refugee families as LSS places them in housing.


“Eden was incredibly instrumental with this whole thing,” said Discovery School teacher, Ms. Kim Strong, an educator of 38 years. Strong added that she admired Eden’s compassionate spirit and her courage to speak up about the plight of refugees to her classmates.


A School With Service In Mind


Eden’s service project is the product of attending a school that fosters the student to look beyond the classroom to better understand their world and their place in it.


At the start of the war in Ukraine, DS students spent their time outside of class creating bracelets to fundraise money for a vetted organization. The school raised over $4,000 in donations.


Currently, students and teachers are working together to provide support to the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey.


Founded in 1990, the Discovery School and its staff is a diverse and inclusive independent day school that educates students aged 18 months to 14 years in a unique program blending the Montessori curriculum with the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program framework.


Eden pictured with her teachers (From left to right): Ms. Kim Strong; Ms. Amba Kone; Ms. Emily Harezlak

While some students have grown up in the program, Eden just started at the school last November. And she is already becoming a shining example of the school’s mission.


When asked if there was anything she could change about the world, Eden said, “I would stop the world from fighting and I would make world peace and I would save the refugees.”


No matter the age, any effort to help your neighbor and those in need always makes a difference.


To learn more about the Discovery School, visit their website. You can visit lssjax.org to learn about our mission and how to support our work.


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