It all started with one simple question proposed to a group of teachers in a professional development session this summer, “What could you do in your classroom to make your students’ writing stronger?” The thoughts began to churn. What type of activity would be meaningful enough to impact a group of sixth grade students and enhance the quality of their writing? After all, they are 11- and 12-year-olds, and at an age where they find great importance in friends, self, video games, and the emergence of social media. What lesson could be powerful enough to cause them to think and stretch beyond themselves?
Then one simple word came to mind, a word that would certainly evoke an engaging vocabulary lesson, philanthropy. Philanthropy is defined as, “the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people,” and research shows that “teaching social and emotional skills like kindness improves behavioral and academic success.”
So the question was proposed to 160 sixth grade students at Daviess County Middle School, “What would happen if…?” If I mowed my neighbors lawn? If I served at the Daniel Pitino Shelter? Next, the students were asked, “What do you truly care about?” “What do you enjoy doing?” “How can you use that to bless or help others?” Students began to brainstorm and look at lists of resources including wish lists for local charities, homeless shelters, animal shelters, and nursing homes. Students with artistic ability teamed up with students that had a passion for public servants and created cards to show gratitude to local law enforcement officers and firefighters. Students that enjoyed baking immediately teamed up together to plan their menus and visit a local nursing home where one of their nanas was staying. A group of boys coordinated schedules to meet at the local Humane Society. Two young girls worked together to prepare lessons to teach English to Spanish-speaking family members. Some students made bracelets to raise money for cancer, while others began making lists of Random Acts of Kindness they could perform daily. For the next thirty days students performed tasks, big and small, that in some way benefited others.
One student knew right away exactly what she wanted to do to help others. Kealey Couch has always loved helping people and has a special place in her heart for children. Knowing that her family had planned to be part of an upcoming community yard sale, Kealey decided that she wanted to sell her items and donate the money to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. She spent hours pricing her old toys and clothes in preparation for the yard sale, but she did not stop there. Armed with brightly colored markers, Kealey made a large poster board sign that read “Food for St. Jude” and hung it near the table where she was stationed. For two weekend days she manned the table that proudly held a crock pot full of streaming hot dogs, various cookies, cakes, snacks, and a variety of drinks. Going a step further in her act of kindness, Kealey had written uplifting personal messages in marker on the outside of the bagged cookies and snacks that said such things as, “You look beautiful today” and “Have a nice day.”
Kealey initially set a personal goal of raising $150 and was very proud of the fact that she was able to raise $170 in just two days. Initially the plan was for Kealey and her mom to travel to Memphis, Tennessee, tour the campus, and deliver the money personally to St. Jude’s. However, when her mother discovered that Kealey was too young to tour the campus, she opted to mail the money instead. She then surprised Kealey by having a giant check printed with the St. Jude’s emblem and the amount of money she raised. What Kealey did not expect was to have a gift basket delivered to her door filled with a shirt, hat, decorative plate, pencils, and water bottle as a token of appreciation from the children’s hospital. Kealey, who plans on using her love of children to become a pediatrician, says that she would definitely raise money again, but next time she would plan it out earlier and set a higher fundraising goal.
One young man that saw a need bigger than himself was Gavin Price. Gavin is naturally kind-hearted, but when he was first presented with the challenge to help others, his initial thought was to join the group of students who were making care packages for deployed soldiers. The students had been asked to find an act of service that was personal to them, one that allowed them to use their gifts and talents. Gavin went home that evening and saw a picture of a premature baby at Kosair Children’s Hospital that had been posted to Facebook by close family friends. Gavin came to school the next day driven by the desire to raise money for the baby and his family. When Gavin was asked why he wanted to help this family he said, “The family is close to us and has helped us before…And I wanted it (the baby) to have a chance.”
Gavin, who enjoys baking with his grandmother on the weekends, decided to arrange a bake sale. He petitioned family members to bake and donate baked goods, and made several himself, including potato candy and pumpkin dip. A former McClean County resident, Gavin was acquainted with the family that runs the Island Dairy Freeze, and they gave him their full support to set up outside for the bake sale. Unfortunately, the day he selected was the coldest so far this fall. The weather was cold and windy, and rain drizzled as they sat outside from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. collecting sales and donations for baked goods. However, the bright spot in Gavin’s day came in the form of a man that handed him a particularly special donation. When Gavin went to thank him, the man said that he understood because he had experienced having a premature baby himself. Although Gavin did not set a monetary goal ahead of time, he was quite happy with the $180.13 that he raised. He and his family presented the money to the family at their home, in the hopes that it would do a little to help offset meal and travel expenses. As far as for his future, Gavin says he wants to pursue a career in law that leads to public office, and his long term goal is to eventually be President of the United States. With a heart like his, we would be lucky to have him leading our country.
Kealey and Gavin did not set out to help others for the recognition or tokens of thanks; they did it because they have a heart for helping people. Gavin said it best, “They didn’t decide to have cancer or be premature…we just wanted to help them.”
“I pet cats and made them happy and they didn’t want me to leave.” – Tyler W. after visiting the Humane Society
“I learned that it’s hard to cook eggs and not break the yolk.” – Michael G. after surprising his family with breakfast
“Doing things for other people makes you feel really good and old people are really nice.” – Ashlyn W. after baking cookies for the nursing home where her great grandma lives
“I learned that people need clothes and some people don’t have everything I do.” – Grace H. after donating her old clothes to Goodwill
“That not everything is about me and doing things for others makes me very happy.” – Ansley H. after helping a friend deal with a devastating loss and completing 30 days of Random Acts
“I learned that sometimes you feel better about yourself if you make someone else happy.” – Lilly W. after working with her cheer team to raise $428 for a two year old child with cancer
“Making other people happy is better than getting paid.” – Rachel H. after making and delivering cards to the nursing home
“I learned that I underestimated them entirely. I was expecting them to perform a few acts of kindness, help around their home or neighborhood, or visit a local shelter. I never dreamed that they would go above and beyond like they did. My students have amazing hearts and completely exceeded any expectations I had.” – Their teacher after reading and learning of her students’ experiences
Melody Ann Wallace is a teacher at DCMS who finds new blessings each day in her roles as teacher, wife, mom, and stepmom.