After reading the book Refugee by Alan Gratz in their library class, the eighth grade class at St. Mary’s School of Piscataway in Clinton decided that they needed to do something to help those who are being forced to flee from their homes.

“I’m always saying, ‘You are the leaders of tomorrow,’” said the school’s librarian, Anne-Marie Ramsey. “…These kids really cared and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was probably one of the greatest things of my whole career.”

The book tells the story of three refugees during different time periods who are all about the same age as the eighth grade students.

First, there is Josef, a Jewish boy living in Germany in the 1930s. In the face of the Nazi regime, he and his family board a ship and leave the country.

Eighth grader Antonio Dolojan said he found this story to be the most moving, because after Josef’s father returned from a concentration camp and wasn’t quite the same, he was forced to become the man of the family.

“He was a kid who had to grow up before he was old enough to be a man yet,” said Dolojan. “He is only 12, and he became a hero to his family… It shows you don’t have to be an adult to deal with a difficult situation.”

The next refugee is a Cuban girl named Isabel who is fleeing the riots and unrest in Fidel Castro’s communist government in 1994.

Eighth grader Alaina Holland said she felt inspired by this story, and by the others, to “learn to be more grateful for the things that I have,” by doing things like not wasting food.

In the future, Holland hopes to do even more to help refugees.

“My whole life, I’ve always wanted to do something to help people. I always wanted to make a difference, but I never knew what I wanted to do exactly. This book really helped me figure that out,” she said. “They go with so little, and we go with so much. When I’m older, I really want to help refugees get to safe countries.”

The third story was about a Syrian boy named Mahmoud who in 2015 left Syria to trek toward Europe with his family.

Eighth grader Kya Ebuwei said the fact that this story was so recent is “what got me the most,” because she realized, “this is probably still happening.” And it is.

After reading the book, the students set a goal of raising $250 dollars in a week to donate to Catholic Relief Services. They created posters, made announcements, and brought buckets around to the windows of different cars during carpool to ask for donations. Before long, the seventh grade was helping to make posters and people in the parish were also offering to donate.

They exceeded their goal, and because they were so successful, they decided to continue the fundraiser for another week. They eventually raised more than $1,000 to donate to help refugees, who the students now realize are not much different than them.

“To think that we are out here living our normal lives, going around, hanging out with our friends, and to think we could be going through that…that could have been me. That could have been my best friend,” said Ebuwei.