In the beginning, it’s not much to look at and it’s not very big. Just a heart-shaped piece of pottery, about 4 inches across at its widest. But when painted and decorated by students at Brookdale and F.N. Brown elementary schools, this little ceramic will deliver a heart full of hope to people who need an uplifting moment, from those in the military to cancer patients.
Hearts of Hope, as the program is called, was brought to Verona schools by a cancer patient who was very well known to our school children: Joni Jasterzbski, the art teacher at Brookdale and F.N. Brown. She had received one while she was in treatment for breast cancer, and in it she found not only inspiration for her recovery, but also a way for her students to understand what had happened to her. Jasterzbski was on leave from school for six months during her treatment and it was difficult for her students.
Now the program has taken on a momentum of its own. Over the last few weeks, students at the two schools have painted dozens of hearts. Some carry uplifting messages, but many are simply the riot of colors that perhaps only a young child can muster. The recipients often send letters of thanks to the schools, which are read during the morning announcements and posted in the corridors for all to see. “It is wonderful for the children to hear how much their art means to people,” says Jasterzbski. Hearts of Hope, which is based in Montville, has delivered more than 21,000 hearts to people in need since its inception.
The SCAs at Brookdale and F.N. Brown now fund the heart art at their respective schools. Hearts of Hope charges $3 for the raw materials to make each heart. Jasterzbski is going to have an evening of heart painting as part of her work with WINGS, a new cancer support group in Verona, on June 15 at the Verona Community Center. But she longs for a way to make the program even larger. Says Jasterzbski as she surveys the latest tray full of hearts, “It is just so worthwhile.”