Fifth-graders help YWCA Westmoreland rock a message of inclusion

Apr. 17—Aquinas Academy fifth graders rocked a message of love and acceptance during the kickoff of the 2023 YWCA Stand Against Racism Challenge, on Monday at the YWCA Westmoreland County in Greensburg.

The students were invited to paint inspirational messages on rocks to be placed on the Y grounds as reminders of the organization's commitment to eliminating racism.

Fifth-grader Finley Reese painted one rock with a bumblebee and the words, "Bee kind," as a reminder for people to "be kind to everyone, no matter who they are."

Her second rock was a multicolored flower, encouraging people "to share your blooming personality. Be colorful, fun and beautiful," she said.

Messages of kindness, inclusion and acceptance are part of the overall Aquinas curriculum, said teacher Lori Denis.

"We're always emphasizing how you treat each other and how you respect everyone," she said. "That's what we're all about at Aquinas — embracing uniqueness."

The art session was part of the Greensburg Y's participation in the national organization's Racial Justice Challenge running through the month of April, said YWCA Westmoreland Executive Director Carol Palcic.

The nationwide program aims to build more effective social justice habits, particularly those dealing with race, power, privilege and leadership issues.

In that vein, it seemed like a good idea to include young people in activities to help them understand social justice issues, Palcic said. Aquinas students were a good fit, with the school just a half-block from the Y on Greensburg's North Main Street.

"We do so much with adults, so it's great to be able to include the kids," she said.

The students were invited to sign their names on one of three "Racial Justice Challenge" banners created for the program.

One banner will hang in the Y lobby for the rest of the year and visitors will be encouraged to sign it, said Michele Steward, the Y Westmoreland's marketing diversity equity and inclusion director. Two others will circulate around the area, at conferences and local colleges and universities.

More programming is planned through May 15, including a session in which members of the Y's International Women's Group will talk about their immigrant experiences. The group offers women a place to meet and develop friendships, learn more about the United States, improve their English and adapt to their new community.

Information will be made available at as plans are finalized, Steward said.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley by email at or via Twitter .