Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper was unable to attend the official launch of the Flowers of Courage project at Winchester Public School this past May, he made up for his absence when he placed 11 sunflower seeds in their specially designed packet under the watchful eyes of five Winchester Public School students at his Ottawa office on Wednesday, August 15.
The Flowers of Courage project was created by Jeff Arsenault of Morrisburg, “in honour of the children of 9/11 to remind the families that caring never stops,” Arsenault told The Leader in May. And as Arsenault so often does in his projects, children all over North America were included.
The artwork that adorns the sunflower seed packets was provided by six children in Canada and six children in the United States, all of whom are members of families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 tragedy. The message the packets bear was written by the children says Arsenault, an Education Assistant at Winchester Public School.
Some 10,000 packets were originally sent out to schools across North America for packaging, and invitations were extended to Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama to fill a packet.
The McKenzie Seed Co. of Brandon, Manitoba donated the California-grown seeds and provided the services of the printer/graphic designer who fitted the children’s pictures to the small packets.
When Prime Minister Harper was unable to attend the May launch at Winchester Public School, Arsenault figured he had heard the last of it, but not so.
In August, he received an invitation from the Prime Minister’s office, and on August 15, Arsenault, Winchester Public School Principal Jill Pensa and five students found themselves in the Prime Minister’s office.
“The Prime Minister loved the idea of the program,” says Arsenault. “He was very good with the kids. He introduced himself and asked them to explain why they were placing 11 seeds in the packets. We got to spend 20 minutes with him. It was great.”
“The kids were gluing the seed packets right there on the prime minister’s desk and Gavin (Copeland) was getting glue on his desk. But he just shrugged it off, and said ‘that’s fine’.”
“He was amazing. It was such an honour. He treated the kids with such respect and the program with such respect. He is busy and to take the time to sit down with kids, that is a genuine asset Canadians need to see.”
Students representing Winchester Public School were Shannon and Erin Arbuckle, Ryan and Liam Antille and Gavin Copeland. In addition to Principal Pensa, UCDSB director David Thomas had planned to attend but was disappointedly unable to make it.
Arsenault says Flowers of Courage has been a most touching and inspirational project. The 12 children provided not just the name, but all of the artwork on the seed packets, the dedication and the growing directions.
“All of the 12 kids are represented on the packets and schools across Canada and the United States participated in placing 11 seeds in each of them.”
The Flowers of Courage seed packets were made available through various agencies associated with 9/11 to be distributed at this year’s memorials: 4,000 in New York, 3,000 at the U.S. Pentagon and 3,000 to the Flight 93 Memorial.
“Of all of the programs I’ve done, this is the most sentimental. I met with some of the 12 kids during March break and they shared with me some of their stories.”