In a hallway near the entrance of Albany’s Pine Hills Elementary is a display devoted to water.
There is a large construction-paper water well, with the tag line “We build it together.”
Around the big well are numerous smaller wells, marking donations. To the other side is a paper thermometer, counting out $15,000 raised by Pine Hills students since January of 2013.
A small poster below gives the reason for the display: “In memory of Mary Stella Greco, who spent her life helping others around the world through missionary work and monetary donations.”
The kids at Pine Hills are continuing that legacy by raising money for wells in Tanzania.
Greco spent most of her 82 years in Schenectady, living simply. A former nun, she rarely spent money on herself.
Instead, she saved her money and used it to benefit others, sending it to help children read in Guatemala. She also helped fund water wells, both in Bolivia and Tanzania, family said.
As quiet and virtuous as her life had been, her death, discovered New Year’s Day 2013 at her Schenectady apartment, proved as shocking.
She was murdered by a man to whom she had shown kindness, authorities later determined. In April 2014, Michael Briggs admitted in court to causing Grecco’s death by strangulation, and was sentenced to 30 years to life in state prison.
At Pine Hills, where Greco’s niece Deann Lynch teaches third grade, Greco’s spirit of compassion lives on through the Tanzania water well project.
For more than three years, students at the school held bake sales, pancake breakfasts and can drives to raise money for a solar-powered, deep-water well for a community in Tanzania.
Last week the school celebrated reaching its goal.
“My aunts and my relatives, they loved hearing that these kids cared enough about learning from Aunt Mary and learning how to be a better person and helping people around the world,” Lynch said late last week. “It did definitely help ease some of the pain of her passing, knowing that they were doing something to make a difference.”
Pine Hills serves students from pre-K to sixth grade and is on Albany’s North Allen Street. The retired nun had visited Pine Hills in 2010, to talk about the non-profit Albany-based African Reflections Foundation.
Within two weeks of Greco’s death, the school came came up with the idea for a service learning project to focus on continuing Greco’s life mission.
Along the way, students learned about Tanzania in East Africa, and the need for clean water. They also learned about service.
“For us, we can just walk to fountains, turn it on and get a cup of water whenever we want,” fifth-grader Jayla Giles, 11, said. “But for them, it’s like they have to go through all that hard work to use that same water for everything they do.”
It’s also a way to remember Greco.
“It’s not only important to me, I think it’s just respectful to carry on what she did and saving lives at the same time,” sixth-grader Nyla Barrow, 12, said.
African Reflections Foundation so far has drilled 72 wells, providing a source of water deep enough to withstand droughts. The foundation has a kiosk on the Empire State Plaza Concourse in Albany.
It also works with the Wynantskill-based The Sky is Not Limited, which focuses on providing clean water through renewable energy.
Jean Dobbs, CEO of African Reflections, along with Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and other school and local officials, took part in an assembly last week to mark the project reaching its fundraising goal. The well is to be installed this summer near a school in a community about two hours south of the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, Dobbs said.
“It’s awesome, it really is,” she said.
Dobbs said she expects there to be a marker on the well acknowledging Pine Hills Elementary’s efforts, and honoring Greco.
“She’ll never be forgotten,” Dobbs said.
Lynch said she sees the project continuing. She hopes to forge a connection with the school the well will benefit, through letters and other assistance Pine Hills can offer.
“It’s kind of exciting because this is just the beginning of it,” Lynch said. “Because once they have water, so much more can happen.”
Lynch gathered Jayla, Nyla and two other students, fourth-grader Jaylah Costa, 9, and third-grader Marcus Andrews, 9, Thursday to talk about the three-year long effort. Each offered their own contributions to this past week’s celebration.
Marcus read a short summary of the project.
“We have worked together to carry out her legacy,” Marcus read of Greco. “She spent her life helping others around the world. She even funded a well in Tanzania, Africa in 2005.
“We have worked to accomplish a great feat,” he continued, “and she would have been proud of us.”
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.