- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

NORWALK, Conn. (AP) - When a Fund for Teachers grant brought Wolfpit School Special Education teacher Melissa Giandurco to Hawaii, she knew she would return to the classroom with enhanced knowledge to benefit her students-but she had never imagined how she and her family would also be touched by the ‘Aloha Spirit.’

During the 2014-2015 school year, the Fund for Teachers grant opportunity was presented in Norwalk and Giandurco, submitted a research grant proposal that stated in part:

“My goal is to explore Hawaii to see how a culture can honor traditional beliefs while also enriching its youth by embracing the advancements of our global society. I will research how ongoing cultural study can increase student success and involvement. I want to answer three key questions: How can I increase motivation in children from middle or low socio-economic status to love learning while increasing their vocabulary and comprehension through storytelling skills? How can I increase empathy, interpersonal, and self-awareness skills through cooperative learning exercises for special education and ELL students? How can cultural study projects become enriching experiences for the whole educational population?”

Giandurco and her family were delighted to learn that the grant was awarded.

“My dad has always been my biggest support and he encouraged me to apply for the grant,” Giandurco said.

Giandurco’s father, Joseph Giandurco, who is a medically-retired Marine who served in Vietnam, has kidney disease related to his service.

“During my journey to becoming a better teacher, my father was undergoing a journey that was much harder he was seeking a kidney donation, since no one in our family was a proper match,”?Giandurco wrote in a blog post. “In April my dad, mom and I decided to visit Walter Reed in hopes of an eventual kidney transplant. While going through their process, my dad managed to tell every doctor about Fund for Teachers and the grant I earned to study in Hawaii for my students. One doctor was so impressed that he told my father he should go with me and see my work in action. That sparked my dad’s desire to pay his way to Ohau, too.”

While undergoing his peritoneal dialysis in Hawaii, Joseph visited various tourist sites, including Pearl Harbor.

“He met several veterans at Pearl Harbor, and when one Marine veteran who worked as a guard there saw my dad’s Marine hat he saluted him and said, ‘Semper Fi,’” Giandurco said. “Then the guard told him that Hawaii and the Aloha Spirit has a way of “healing a person’s worries.”

The Giandurco’s didn’t realize how prophetic that would be for the former Marine.

“It was foreshadowing,” Giandurco said. “When he was officially listed with Walter Reed (Hospital), they called two days later to tell them that a kidney had become available. My mom called me at the school and said that Walter Reed called to say that a kidney was available and that we had to drive down there that day. We drove to Maryland for more than nine hours in the pouring rain to get there. The incredible takeaway was that the kidney was coming from Hawaii from a deceased military serviceman.”

Joseph Giandurco’s new kidney traveled more than 14 hours from Hawaii to Maryland by military escort. Surgery happened exactly 24 hours after the family left Connecticut.

“In Hawaii, they are true believers in the Aloha Spirit of giving-what I have, you should have,” Giarndurco said. “The fact that it (the kidney donation) came from someone in the military and from Hawaii, really exemplifies the Aloha Spirit.”

On Oct. 10 the transplant took place and the transplant team encourages patients to give their new organ a name, Giandurco said.

“In the spirit of Hawaii, my dad named his “Mahalo,” which means “thank you,”’?Giandurco said. “Now, every doctor helping my father recover in Maryland knows about his extra special gift filled with the Aloha Spirit and about my professional development grant from Fund for Teachers that changed all of our lives.”

In her blog post Giandurco wrote:

“I created a wonderful learning experience for myself; but I’m here to say that Fund for Teachers doesn’t just touch students and teachers. It touches so many more people. In my case, Fund for Teachers impacted teachers whom I met in Hawaii, as well as my family and, since April, Fund for Teachers has impacted a special population of doctors at Walter Reed Medical Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.”

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Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com

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