Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” It is one of my favorite quotes, and it very much reminds me of a third grade student I recently met, who attends Hyde Park Elementary School.
In November, nine-year-old Caden Elrod became the youngest recipient of the Student Recycler of the Year Award from the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District.
Let there be no mistake. Caden has found his calling, what makes him come alive and inspires him to lead by example.
Caden told me he has been recycling his whole life except for when he was a baby. But I think his spark was really ignited when he saw trash in the Ohio River and all along its shores. Then, in about the first grade he started looking into it and found information on a massive patch of literally billions of plastic pieces that have accumulated hundreds of miles into the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Island of Trash.
“It kills animals, and plants won’t be able to grow because stuff may get stuck in the plants,” he told me.
And that, Caden thinks, is just unacceptable. So, in his own way he set out to be a change maker.
Caden has been encouraging his school and his fellow students to recycle more. He made a cake that looked like a recycling truck for his Boy Scouts annual cake auction. He has shared photos of garbage along the Ohio River and elsewhere to get people’s attention. He and his dad drop off used electronics to Cohen Recycling. He will talk to anyone who will listen about the importance of doing their part. And he has applied to participate in the Hamilton County Recycling Policy Committee, although he won’t be old enough to join for a few more years.
At home, he has inspired his whole family to recycle (with the exception of his sister and that, he told me, is just because she is still a baby). They have recycling bins throughout their house.
“He will hold us accountable. He will always say to us, ‘I want you to do a little more’, Tonia Elrod, Caden’s mother said. “I am always conscious of it now. Even today I went to lunch and had a plastic cup but they couldn’t recycle there so I brought the cup home.”
Caden wants people to be aware that there are a lot of ways we can reuse products. Here are a few examples he pointed out.
- He has turned worn shoes into flower pots (a boot is easier to put a flower inside)
- You can make tunnels out of used plastic bottles by cutting off the top and bottom (he is not sure what you would use these for)
- You can make shelves from leftover wood
- He once made a giant thing out of cardboard that he rode on with his dad
- He once made a chair from a stick and a piece of wood
- He once made a game out of cardboard pieces
He has also learned there are some things you cannot recycle like foam things and packaging peanuts.
“I am trying to be an example for the whole world and my family,” he told me.
Here are a few more questions I asked him.
Lisa: How does it make you feel to recycle and encourage others to do the same?
Caden: It makes me feel good and like I am doing something that will help other people to live in a better place.
Lisa: What advice do you have for others about recycling?
Caden: Everyone should recycle as much as they can. There are like 33% of communities in the United States where you have to subscribe to recycle and that is not good. If you have contact with one of the leaders, you should tell them that you want to stop that so more people can recycle.
Lisa: When you grow up, what are some ways you can do more?
Caden: After school, I want to learn how to recycle electronics and foam.
Our vision is something so easily taken for granted. We look around ourselves and see the vibrant colors dispersed around us. We see billboards, newsprint, books and computer screens. Our vision helps us to navigate and explore, read and draw.
So, think for a moment how difficult it would be for a young child who has sight but cannot see with clarity, not because of a medical condition such as corneal or retinal issues, diabetes, and blindness, but because screenings and corrective eye glasses are simply too expensive.
According to the American Optometric Association,one in four children has an undiagnosed vision problem that could inhibit school performance not to mention their quality of life.
Since 1988, Greater Cincinnati nonprofit OneSight has been working to change that. With the help of dedicated partners, it has screened more than nine million people globally.
Locally, OneSight, in partnership with Luxottica, has been performing free vision screenings in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky school districts since 1992. A team of 1100+ volunteers recently visited 108 local schools and performed distance acuity screenings for about 30,000 students. Additionally, kindergarten and first grade boys were tested for color blindness and all students in kindergarten, first and third grade were tested for amblyopia through stereopsis screenings.
Jenni Eilers, LDO, OneSight volunteer engagement manager, told me students not passing their screenings were sent home with a letter advising parents to schedule a full vision exam with an eye care professional; and for those whose parents could not afford it, OneSight provided assistance (subject to availability). Many students in the Cincinnati Public School District were helped by the OneSight Vision Center at Oyler School while other students in need were referred through the OneSight Voucher Program.
The OneSight voucher program works to help those in needs in communities nationwide. Any 501c3 is able to refer patients that are financially and visually in need to a local retail location (LensCrafters, participating Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, and Target Optical) for free eyewear. If the patient is in need of an eye exam the referring 501c3 can help them partner with a local eye doctor at the retail location and or another organization to receive and eye exam to prepare them for their visit.
Steve and Elizabeth Wampler believe in living life to its fullest, in pursuing goals and dreams with all they have, and in encouraging others – especially children – to do the same. They want their legacy to be a movement, a world where everyone, no matter their differences, are included, welcomed, and strengthened by each other’s company.
I have written about the Wamplers before because they so touched me when I met them during my work with the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival. Who they are and what they stand for is to me, what every day heroes are all about. They bring out the best in everyone fortunate enough to come in their path, empowering people and moving them to action.
If you are unfamiliar with their story, please read further to learn, be inspired…and join me in being part of their new initiative the #2Together Project.
Six Days of Absolute, Awe Inspiring Torture
Those were the words Steve used to describe his journey, one pull at a time – 20,000 pulls in all – as he inched his way to the top of the world’s highest rock, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. With two experienced climbing friends at his side, news of Steve’s climb traveled the globe. He was interviewed in much of the major media. Until that moment when Team Wampler reached the pinnacle, no other person with a disability had ever achieved such a goal. Steve did it with full use of only one hand and sheer determination (and a year of training).
The six days that Steve fought against exhaustion, life threatening danger, and a fear of heights also represented the greatest length of time he had ever spent outside a wheelchair.
Born with a severe form of cerebral palsy, this man who held the world breathless as he did what few others would ever dare to do, was never defined by what he could not do or what he did differently.
What I remember most about Steve (and Elizabeth) was how, when Steve laughed, it ignited the whole room. Elizabeth would be quickly infected and not long after, we were all smiling and laughing with them. I remember how, even though we had just met moments earlier, they had this magical way of making me feel like I had known and been their friends my whole life.
I remember at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Steve giving advice to children battling life threatening or temporary medical conditions to never give up. And Elizabeth, through another microphone at the Ryan Seacrest Studio, saying, “Just find out what you can do physically and go do it. Go play.”
Wow, think about the power in that advice. Think about how through play, comes opportunities for joy and creation; for building friendships and values; for strengthening motor and cognitive skills; for belonging.
It was in a wilderness camp in California where a young child named Steve learned he can do anything.
His drive to give other children that same wisdom was his ultimate mission when he set out to conquer a feat never been done before. His El Capitan climb was to raise money for the Stephen J. Wampler Foundation (also known as Camp Wamp), an adventure program accessible to all children no matter their background or ability.
It doesn’t matter how a child looks or moves or learns or experiences his/her world. For two weeks, they camp under the stars, fish, canoe, sing around the camp fire, hike, dance, tell stories, meet new friends, and grow. They learn just as Camp Wamp’s founder did, that they can do anything.
And all of this happens without any financial obligation to the child’s parents or guardians. It is an incredible gift.
The #2Gether Project
Please join me, and others around the world in supporting the Wampler’s mission.
Through the #2getherproject, please:
What a wonderful story. Teaching and inspiring children to learn about differences, and equally important about what all of us as human beings share is such a valuable life lesson. Each of us, no matter our origin, our color of skin, our religion, our economic status, our mode of doing things has a desire to be included, valued, respected and loved.
Eiizabeth and Steve Wampler share this message with humor, genuineness and passion. They are among the truly incredible people who I had the fortune to get to know through my work with the ReelAbilities Film Festival. Steve uses a wheelchair because of having cerebral palsy. It is but one characteristic that you will notice about him, but what I notice first is his huge smile that lights up a room. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have such infectious warmth that radiates from them and when
they laugh you can’t help but laugh along with them.
The reason they were in Cincinnati is because we were showcasing the documentary film about Steve journey as the only person with a disability to have ever climbed the magnificent El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. At twice the height of the Empire State Building, it took Steve 20,000 pull ups over 6 days, sleeping on the sheer face of the mountain and over-coming enormous fear to accomplish this monumental task (with his team).
Recently, Elizabeth shared this photo with friends and this story to go with it:
“Yesterday at the mall, this darling boy came up to us with his mom, and had some questions about Steve and his wheelchair.
That was wonderful, but what struck me was just how incredible his mom was. She was really brave, and asked her child if he
had any questions about Steve or his chair. It was brilliant. Steve answered questions until he seemed satisfied, and then they
went on a tiny little impromptu ride in a circle. I wish everyone was brave like this little man, it was just great all around! He is
SO young, but had a really pleasant experience, and got a head start at being comfy around people with disabilities.
Way to go, little man!”
– Elizabeth Wampler
Way to go Elizabeth and Steve for giving that little man an experience that will impact the way he sees people for the rest of his life!
About the Stephen J. Wampler Foundation
The Stephen J. Wampler Foundation’s mission is to make adventure programs accessible to all children, regardless of their background or ability. To provide outdoor adventure and environmental programs that foster their social and emotional growth, physical rehabilitation and environmental awareness for children with physical disabilities.
CINspirational People is a feature of Good Things Going Around profiling diverse people of Greater Cincinnati, what inspires them, and what is inspiring about them. You can read more profiles by clicking on the link at the top of the blog. Do you know someone to suggest? Please reach out. Thanks!
Meet a very special young man whose dedication to his classwork, positive outlook on life, and goodwill to others has not gone unnoticed. Dior Betts, son of proud parents Ericka King-Betts and Darrell Betts Jr., is his class’ first Student of the Week this year.
From his words:
“Hi! My name is Dior Betts. I have 3 brothers named Simeon, Aaron and Darren. I have a pet dog named Naina and she is a two year old Yorkie. My favorite food is pizza. My favorite snack is Cinnamon Rolls and my favorite color is blue. Lastly, my favorite thing about summer and winter is cruising in the summer and partying in the winter.”
From his teacher:
“Dior was chosen this week as student of the week for his positive attitude and hard work. Dior comes in each day ready to learn. He is also always willing to help those around him and is a great role model at Colerain Elementary.”
Way to go Dior!
NOTE: I also heard that Dior’s brother, Simeon, was named Athlete of the Week. Congratulations to him as well!