By Meghann Sepulveda, Special for wranglernews.com
It was an instant connection for Cierra Chamot when she met her friend Heather Began at church several years ago. Began had recently moved to Arizona from Illinois to pursue her teaching career. The two young women shared a love of country dancing, adventuring and Bible study. But on Oct. 5, 2019, Began tragically died in a car accident just two days shy of her 26th birthday.
After losing her best friend, Chamot, 26, was overcome with grief. Still, with Christmas approaching, she felt compelled to celebrate their favorite holiday and honor Began’s memory by giving back to students in need.
“We both loved Christmas,” Chamot said. “Although losing her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced, I didn’t want to go through the holiday season feeling sad.”
That year, Chamot hosted a Christmas-theme book drive at her home to benefit the school where Began had taught.
“She was an extremely dedicated and passionate teacher,” Chamot said. “Her students were so important to her.”
Chamot’s family and friends, rallied from near and far to support her effort. She received more than 1,000 books.
“It was incredible,” she said. “After that event, I was inspired to organize a larger school-supply drive to better meet the needs of the students the following year. We were able to collect and donate enough school supplies for all 860 students.”
Continuing the tradition
This year, Chamot organized a community event – Cookies ’n’ Cocoa – on Friday, Dec. 10, at Rover Elementary, a Title 1 school in the Tempe Elementary School District. She spent months planning every detail, from Santa’s workshop and an interactive winter wonderland, to raffle prizes, music and food.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to bring people together, which has been difficult to do because of the pandemic,” said Edward Goldstein, principal of Rover Elementary.
The event, which drew about 500 people, was free for the community.
“Cierra is so selfless to do this out of the goodness of her heart,” Goldstein said. “We are beyond grateful and privileged to have been part of it.”
Goldstein says there is a need for school supplies throughout the year for families who cannot afford to purchase them on their own. In addition, monetary donations provide food and gifts, especially during the holidays.
A greater sense of purpose
Guided by her faith, Chamot says giving back has helped her find greater meaning in life.
“Sometimes it can be hard to see the good, but I’ve found that it can come from tragedy,” she said. “Honoring Heather’s life by giving back to the community and offering hope to others is what inspires me.”
Chamot plans to continue this annual tradition and looks forward to one day establishing an event in Began’s home state of Illinois.
“I want to continue to make an impact,” she said.
If you would like to contribute to Chamot’s efforts to raise funds for students in need, visit the GoFundMe account: https://gofund.me/2717b9e7.