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Norwalk High Student Checks Off Charitable List

NORWALK, Conn. – Caitlin Monahan is only a senior in high school, but she's working on her bucket list – things she wants to do before she graduates. She can prove she did them, too, because two of her classmates have been making a documentary of the project for their history-in-the-making class.

Friday's stop for Caitlin and her videographers was The Open Door Shelter . Caitlin handed shelter director Bill Okwuosa a big wad of money and shared her plan to go to Times Square that evening to hand out free hugs to anyone who was interested – also on her list. On Saturday, Caitlin and her friends were back at the shelter, helping to make sandwiches.

"The thing on the bottom of my list was the thing I wanted to do the most and that was help the homeless," she said. "So we came up with this thing, how to do it, and we had to go talk to our principal and made sure it was OK with him. We collected money for three days during lunchtime. I was so nervous at first, thinking maybe people won't come in. But everyone pulled through. It was great. The first day we earned more than $230."

When the kids left, Okwuosa had $562 in his hands. "This goes a long way," he said. "You know we have kids here, we have women. It's a family shelter, a lot of people don't know how far money goes in the shelter." Okwuosa said the shelter had recently given funds to a resident who needed money to go to North Carolina for his mother's funeral. "He cried his eyes out," Okwuosa said. "He was like, 'Are you going to give me the money? For real?'"

He also said a woman who had stayed in the shelter two months ago with her 12-year-old son had passed away. "We just got the news yesterday that she died," he said. "Her son was home alone, his mom was in bed dead. So we found out." Shelter workers took flowers and other things. "It's not just showing love through the food that we have, or blankets or jackets, it's just listening to someone who really has something to say."

Kayla Sodaro, a junior, and Ariana Quadrini, a senior, recorded the exchange between Caitlin and Okwuosa. They filmed Saturday's food prep at the shelter. The documentary will be part of a film festival Thursday at the high school.

Caitlin said she would be on her own for Friday night's free hug adventure. It was inspired by an international movement . Other things on her list were to learn to ride a bike, to help someone kick a bad habit and to help someone with their list.

She was impressed that classmates who weren't part of her project helped to collect money for the shelter. "I was just so scared, what if no one helps?" she said. "This is something we made up, we came up with this idea. It's not an adult charity; it's just kids. We're all under 18, and we're all doing something to help out. It's a really great feeling. I'm excited."

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