For the past two years, RAF Tampa Bay has offered a bud vase floral arranging lesson to the student body of the local Catholic School. Using best practices and ideas, RAF Chicago has also begun to explore the possibility of engaging students and schools in its mission. Over the past year, RAF Chicago has also pursued several grant opportunities to support program expansion, and has developed a program called “Hope Blossoms” that teaches students from schools with at least a 50% free or reduced-price meal eligibility rate about floral arranging, kindness, and volunteerism.

In March, we approached Forrestal Elementary School, a K-3rd grade school that sits on the naval base in Great Lakes, about the possibility of piloting the program. The school’s social worker, Brittany Fritz, was immediately intrigued, and after an initial meeting to discuss the possibility of running such a program, a pilot lesson was scheduled for May that would engage the third grade class before the end of the year.

Using material shared by RAF Tampa Bay, RAF Chicago developed the framework for the activity, which included a homework assignment and 45-minute lesson plan that included themes of empathy. RAF did not realize at the time, but this concept had been taught only weeks prior as part of the Second Step Program – a curriculum focused on social-emotional learning.

On May 16, RAF staff and four volunteers provided five, 45-minute lessons to 100 nine-year olds. Each student made two bouquets. The first bouquet had to be given away to a special friend or family member (with RAF providing a worksheet for the students to complete that asked about who the student was delivering their flowers to and why). The second bouquet was delivered to children at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Chicago.

The opportunity to pilot Hope Blossoms at Forrestal Elementary School was tremendously valuable to RAF Chicago. Not only did we learn practical lessons, but the purpose of the program was reinforced by the response from teachers, school administrators, and especially the students. Not even two hours later, a teacher from another North Chicago student contacted us to request a Hope Blossoms program for her school!

Brittany from Forrestal reported When our students were arranging flowers they each thought of someone they wanted to give their arrangement to and could visualize how happy they would be. Empathy is an important lesson in our social/emotional development and Random Acts of Flowers put that lesson into action. I was grateful that our third graders could be a part of that process.

RAF Chicago is excited to learn more about the Second Step Program and how our mission of compassion, creativity, and emotional wellness can engage students and schools and complement this curriculum. We are also excited by the opportunity of developing unique programs that can be measured, replicated, and placed in line with more funders’ priorities.

RAF’s mission of improving the emotional health and wellbeing of individuals in healthcare facilities has not changed, nor will it. What we can explore, however, is how we fulfill our mission and who joins us along the way. We look forward to sharing more news about this and other programs that deepen our impact in the community and help inspire and nurture a more empathetic and beautiful culture.

– RAF Chicago Executive Director, Andrea Lutz