The gift of an angel

Second-grader recognizes 5 women who enhanced her education; Angels of Love on sale now at Trinity Gift Shop

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Paityn Ahrens, 7, a second-grader at Cooper Elementary School, right, is embraced by Sheila Parks, a woman who served as a learning coach for her during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parks was one of five women Ahrens gave an angel ornament to on Wednesday.

Whether online or in-person, five women have contributed to Paityn Ahrens’ love of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahrens, 7, a second-grader at Cooper Elementary School, wanted to recognize the hard work of those women. On Wednesday, she did that by presenting each of them with Angels of Love. The gold-colored angel ornaments were given to four educators in the Fort Dodge Community School District and one private learning coach as part of a Friends of UnityPoint Health fundraiser. Now in its 21st year, the Angels of Love campaign is used to bring joy to those who receive the angels and support UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center.

“We picked the people that helped me through the pandemic,” Ahrens said. “They helped me love school.”

The women recognized included: Sheila Parks, private learning coach; Jen Yoder, a third-grade teacher at Cooper Elementary who taught Ahrens in kindergarten; Maria Lehman, an English Language Learner instructor who taught Ahrens in first grade; Susan Kane, a title teacher who previously taught first grade at Duncombe Elementary; and Anna Conn, Ahrens’ second-grade teacher at Cooper.

“We are honored,” said Lehman. “I feel like Paityn is the one who brought joy to us. She’s an a amazing student.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
This angel ornament is now for sale in the Trinity Gift Shop at UnityPoint Health ­ Trinity Regional Medical Center. Sales from the angels will go toward the payment for the new linear accelerator in the hospital’s cancer center. The fundraiser is an effort by the Friends of UnityPoint Board.

Ahrens’ parents, Nicole and Nick, were on hand for the presentation of the angels in the library at Cooper.

Nicole Ahrens is an instructional coach for the elementary schools in the FDCSD. She said the pandemic brought with it numerous challenges both as a parent and an educator.

Her daughter has not spent much time in the classroom since March of 2020.

“The craziness of being virtual and then is she going to transition back to school?” Nicole Ahrens said. “During the summer, she was so excited to go back to school. Then the first day she came home and said she loved it.”

The pandemic first affected schools when Paityn was in kindergarten. Her birthday is March 15. After her birthday party in 2020, she didn’t physically go back to school for quite some time.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Maria Lehman, English Language Learner instructor, right, embraces Paityn Ahrens, 7, a second-grader at Cooper Elementary School. Lehman taught Ahrens virtually in first grade. Ahrens gifted Lehman with an Angel of Love on Wednesday.

“When we got shut down in kindergarten, many tears were shed,” Nichole Ahrens said. “We celebrated her birthday Friday at school, had a birthday party that night and then never went back to school.”

At the start of the following school year, Nicole Ahrens had to decide whether to have her daughter learn virtually or in-person.

“It was lots of pros and cons and crying at the dining room table, feeling like you are making one of the heaviest decisions ever,” Nicole Ahrens said. “And knowing what is she going to miss or what is she going to get. What will it look like. For us it came down to the unknown of the hybrid schedule.”

The 2020-21 school year started in-person with an option for families to choose virtual learning. Later, there was about a six week stretch between November and Christmas where a hybrid schedule was used. That was the only six weeks the FDCSD was not offered fully in-person.

Despite the complications caused by COVID, the group of FDCSD educators stepped up to provide the best learning opportunities they could for Paityn Ahrens.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Jen Yoder, a third-grade teacher at Cooper Elementary School, is all smiles as she holds an angel ornament Wednesday at the school. The angel was given to her by Paityn Ahrens, 7, a second-grader as a way to say thank you. The angels are part of a Friends of UnityPoint fundraiser called Angels of Love. The ornaments are available for purchase through the Trinity Gift Shop.

“For us, the big thing was these guys made sure students were still connected to their peers and to the school, so it didn’t feel like they were on an island,” Nicole Ahrens said.

Parks, one of the women recognized, saw Paityn Ahrens regularly when learning was being done virtually.

“She is like another granddaughter to me,” Parks said. “She’s my grandkid’s (Kinsley Huse, 8, a third-grader) best friend.”

“Kinsley was nice enough to share her (Sheila) with Paityn,” Nicole Ahrens said.

Paityn Ahrens said she likes aspects of both in-person and virtual learning.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Paityn Ahrens, 7, a second-grader at Cooper Elementary School, front, poses with five women who positively impacted her education during the COVID-19 pandemic. She gifted each one with an Angel of Love ornament on Wednesday. Pictured from left to right: Sheila Parks, Jen Yoder, Maria Lehman, Susan Kane and Anna Conn.

Cheryl Sayers, president of the Friends of UnityPoint board, said the angels are often given as a way to remember or honor someone who has passed away. But during the pandemic, Sayers and other Friends of UnityPoint board members thought the angels could also be given to essential workers.

“All the people we felt held our hearts during that time (pandemic),” Sayers said. “Teachers came up, nurses came up, grocery workers.”

Nicole Ahrens agreed.

“Angels come in all different shapes and jobs,” she said. “It’s Angels of thanks. We couldn’t think of a better profession to recognize than teachers. As their peer, I see the time and energy they put into the job. But I also see the perspective as a parent.”

Nicole Ahrens was particularly grateful for the educators who worked with her daughter.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Kinsley Huse, 8, a third-grader, left, and Paityn Ahrens, 7, a second-grader, pose together at Cooper Elementary School on Wednesday. The two became fast friends during the COVID-19 pandemic as they learned from home during the 2020-21 school year. Sheila Parks, the grandma of Huse, spent a lot of time with the pair.

“You have all played a huge role in Paityn’s schooling during this crazy, crazy, time and she still loves to come to school and we can’t thank you enough for that,” she said.

Sayers wanted the Ahrens family to know the kind of impact each angel brings.

“The one thing I want to say to Paityn and her family — you are giving an angel to teachers that you just love and that makes my heart so happy,” Sayers said on Wednesday. “But you are also doing something else. The money you gave for the angels go toward a giant thing at the hospital — it’s called a linear accelerator. I brought a picture today, so you would know what it is and it cost over $4 million.”

The linear accelerator has been in use in the Trinity Cancer Center since April. It cuts down on the amount of time cancer patients have to spend in the machine.

“The money from the angels is going to go to this machine,” Sayers said. “So you are honoring people today, but you are also honoring people who need to use this machine at the hospital.”

Sayers said the gift of an angel is one that has a ripple effect.

“Thank you for doing this Paityn,” Sayers said. “Remember your gift will keep going, not just for the people here today, but the people who are going to come to our hospital from Fort Dodge and Humboldt and all over.”


The angel ornaments are on sale now at the Trinity Gift Shop.

Cost is a $15 or more donation for each angel.

Orders can be taken by phone by calling Trinity Gifts (515-574-6656). Angels can also be mailed for an additional charge.

Sales will go through December or when sold out.

If you have moved and have not received your Angels of Love letter for 2021, please call UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center at 515-574-6656 so records can be updated.


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