Tuesday, January 14, 2014
It started with a coat.
Most of you know I teach. Some of you know that I switched schools last year. People who know the school I taught at and the school I moved to look at me as if I am the craziest person in town. I will be honest; I was at a school where I had very few problems with students. They were from upper middle class families, and those families motivated them to do well. The expectations of parents were high, and students normally met those expectations with very little prodding from me. Most of them could read and comprehend, and they were fully capable of doing grade-level work. Why on earth would I leave? Especially to switch to a school where students had difficulty just keeping their eyes open during the day. A school where students don’t usually have school supplies, and where a good number of them are operating well below grade-level. Why on earth would I go there?
Here’s a fact: at my old school, folks were generous. The principal made a point of telling everyone who would listen that we were the school to beat in a penny campaign, or Hoops for Heart, or collecting canned goods. Parents gave copious amounts to the PTA, and fundraisers were legion. One dad donated half the cost of a new gym floor! Yep, if you wanted to raise money, ours was the school to ask. My new school? Not so much. Our kids don’t have any money—most are on free or reduced lunch. Our kids and their families are the ones who benefit from the fundraisers my old school used to have. Don’t get me wrong—I gave my pennies and I brought in canned goods and I joined the PTA at my old school. But I never really saw that it made any difference to anyone, other than it gave my principal bragging rights. But when you SEE what a difference you make? That’s what it’s all about.
It all started when one of our media coordinators posted this on Facebook:
Today's 5 things. I hate to roll all 5 things into one moment very often, but nothing else about my day really compares. First thing this morning, a child walked into my office wearing a blanket as his coat. When I asked him if he needed a coat, he said very politely said, "Yes, ma'am." I sent him off to his next class and told him to come back at the next class break. With a little help from Curtis A. and Kristi J., we were able to send him home with a coat and gloves. The look in his eyes really warmed my heart. While I feel in my heart he is thankful and happy to have a coat to wear tomorrow morning in the 12 degree temps, I think the opportunity to help him was even more of a blessing. Stuff is stuff. People matter so much more than stuff. It's hard to comprehend how many things I take for granted every day. I wonder how many opportunities I miss to help someone in need with something that's simple to share. Tomorrow, he's getting a new scarf.
Yesterday's Today's 5 things -- follow up .... The blanket/coat story unfolded in a new way today --- the student came to see me this morning … During that conversation I discovered he had insisted his mom have the coat we gave him yesterday. "She loved it and it fit her so I wanted her to have it. I was ok; I just added some more layers. Really ... I was ok." When I asked him if he'd really like to have a coat too if I could get another one --- no hesitation, "yes, please." After a little bit checking it turns out no one in the house has a coat and the mom was grateful that people wanted to help them. Thanks to several generous and kind hearted FB and school friends, both of his siblings and his mom are getting new, warm clothing. I wish you could see the joy in his eyes as he realized people were wanting to help him and his family. What a blessing it is to have an opportunity to share and care for others. Many thanks to you all for your compassion and concern.
Bear with me on this post, please. I know it's long, but the things I want to say will take a few words to express. First, several of you have asked about helping the family in need. I am taking the mother the clothing, coats, blankets, personal/household items, gloves/hats, and some food we've collected to the family tomorrow. I've spoken to the mother again today and explained that I'll have another set of items for her in a week or so. I wanted them to have as many of their urgent needs met as soon as possible. I'm attaching a link to a spreadsheet (Google doc) I created to coordinate needs. If the link works correctly you should be able to see the list of remaining items. Feel free to send me a message, if you'd like to help with any of these items. I'll edit the list as I get responses. The mother made it very clear to me that she believes this situation has been a miracle for her family. She's trying to help her oldest son pay for community college, pay rent/utilities, clothe and feed her children - with reduced hours and her son's part time job as income. She said she's heard about God providing a way her whole life as she's gone to church and never imagined it would be her that needed or received this kind of help. It's very nice to have an opportunity to help someone who needs help and has been "making do" because they feel they have more than others and don't want to burden others with their needs. Many thanks to my kind friends and family members for your overwhelming response to this situation. I personally have been blessed to have the opportunity extend love and support on behalf of many of you. The incredible support I've witnessed in this situation has come from people of all ages and different racial groups, from 3 different states, from people with various religious convictions and social beliefs, from every political party (including no political party whatsoever), a wide range of income groups, and any other way you could find to sort people if you were so inclined. In my opinion, one important element ties the entire group together. Life is short and no matter how much or how little a person has, people are more important that stuff. People helping people is a powerful and beneficial force. Government agencies, churches and charitable groups and such have a role in helping those in need, but there's no substitute for opening one's own eyes and meeting a need, great or small, in whatever way a person can. At the end of the day, how we treat each other matters. And how we treat each other in front of our children has the potential to impact the world for many years to come. I am humbled that the story of a boy who wore a blanket as his coat has spoken to so many of you. I pray the feelings I had that morning, as I realized the needs in the life of a child who wasn't complaining or asking for help, will forever shape decisions I make and lessons I try to teach my own child.
This is why I moved. This is where I’m supposed to be…helping kids who are great kids, but whose parents can’t give them what they need…this is where I can step in. I loved being a mom, and I tried to be the best mom I knew how, but children grow and they create lives of their own, and then moms have to find something new to do. And if that means I can help other moms be better moms by providing them with some of the basic necessities so that their children can be fed and warm…well, I’m honored.
In my next post, I’ll show you what I did for this little family.