Paper folding aids earthquake victims, honors grandmother

_MG_7770Mary Jo Haase of St. Agnes Parish, Milwaukee, poses with grandson Jacob Seligmiller after Mass at St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee. After hearing stories of the devastation in Japan from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami this past March, Seligmiller raised $1,200 by selling 350 homemade paper cranes. (Catholic Herald photo by Kevin Pauly)To entertain her young grandson until his mother came home from work each day, Rimiko Seligmiller, a Japanese immigrant, would create origami cranes out of anything she could get her hands on, newspapers, old magazines, soft dishtowels, even occasionally, toilet paper.

As the years passed, Jacob Seligmiller created them on his own as a hobby. Recently the 17-year-old student at West Allis Central High School used his love of Japanese paper folding to honor his late grandmother by selling handmade paper cranes to raise money for those suffering the effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Jacob hoped to sell 500 cranes over the weekend to raise at least $1,500 for Catholic Relief Services. He offered one crane for a donation of $3 and two for $5. While he fell a little short of his 500-crane goal, selling 350, he came very close to his fundraising goal, bringing in $1,200.

“I sold 350 of them, but I made $1,200,” he said, adding, “The best part was the people. They were so supportive and it really boosted my faith to know how much people care. Some people would give me $20 for one crane, and one guy just gave me $60 and he didn’t even want a crane. It was amazing.”

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March, Jacob felt helpless and worried for his family members still living there.

“Thankfully, they all live in the southwestern area of the country, that wasn’t affected by the earthquake,” he said. “The destruction happened in the northeastern area near the Fukushima Prefecture. But when I looked at all of the images of devastation caused by the massive earthquake, subsequent tsunami and finally the nuclear power plant radiation leaks, it haunted me, and left me seeking a way to reach out to this country I love, with whatever support I can.”

As a junior in high school, with a part time job as utility clerk at Pick ‘n Save, taking ACT tests, and worrying about where he will be going to college, Jacob didn’t know how he could possibly make a difference.

To contribute to
Catholic Relief Services
efforts in Japan:
call (877) HELP-CRS,
donate online at crs.org
or by mail to
Catholic Relief Services,
P.O. Box 17090,
Baltimore, MD 21203-7090.
In the memo of the check,
mark “SE Asia and Pacific Rim Emergency Fund.”

While reflecting on his heritage and the loving moments with his grandmother, he remembered her telling him the story of the “Legend of the Crane.”

“The crane in Japan is considered to be a mystical or holy creature,” he said. “An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish, such as long life, prosperity or recovery from illness or injury. Over time, the Thousand Paper Cranes have come to represent a symbol of world peace.”

When Jacob learned that his parish was coordinating a special collection for donations to Catholic Relief Services for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami victims, the idea came together.

“It was like someone suddenly shone a light on me and showed me the way to help, make a difference and honor my family at the same time,” he said. “And, I began making them out of printer paper, colored paper and even magazines.”

With precious spare moments woven between school, homework, his part-time job, and other activities, Jacob’s mother Vicky worked out a plan for him to accomplish the 500-crane goal in time for Palm Sunday Masses.

“She calculated the days with the number of cranes and determined that I needed to make 20 per day,” he said. “It took me a while each day to do this, but I got it done.”

Proud of her son, Vicky was amazed that Jacob thought of this project on his own, and implemented it with such enthusiasm.

“He is a great kid,” she said. “For him to put this together to use the skills that make him think so fondly of his grandmother and the laughs they had together and to be able to use it to bring honor to her and her culture and to help people who are so in need, is just thrilling. She would be so proud and I wish she could be here to see him, it brings me to tears – that the aspect of his heritage in that silly thing they used to do together has come to some really good benefit and help, is wonderful.”

Combining Jacob’s fundraising efforts with those of the parish will ensure funds reach the needy in Japan as quickly as possible, said Vicky.

“With other groups such as the Red Cross, administration costs eat away at the donations,” she explained. “With Catholic Relief Services, it is a direct pipeline, there are no puzzles pieces to work through to get the money where it is needed. It’s so rewarding for me to see that his deep love for culture and heritage will have a direct impact on the country he cherishes so much.”

With Jacob demonstrating the example of stewardship at its core, Fr. Dave Cooper, pastor of St. Matthias is inspired by the young man, who like any high school student, would naturally struggle with responding to the Gospel call to serve.

“What can one 17-year-old boy do?” he said, adding, “And this is all something that came from him. No one told him, he came up with this pretty much all on his own, despite going to school full time, working, all within his spare moments he wanted to respond to the need. It’s so inspiring in a world with so much greed and self interest to see a young person make a concerted effort to do something to make a difference.”

While Jacob was happy to help in what he considers a small way, he falls short of giving himself any credit for the success of the project.

“It is overwhelming to see what God did,” he said. “The people were so generous and the only thing I wish would be that my grandmother could be here. I think she would have liked to see how much people care.”

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