Young people and students
One day Kristina and a friend happened to be walking behind my fence as I was working in the garden. They were real inquisitive, wanting to know what I was doing, why I liked to garden and what type of plants I had. I was planting pansies at the time. Surely, it wouldn’t make much difference if my yard had two less flowers so I offered them each one. It wasn’t even a decision that required any thought on my part but I always remember the smiles on their faces as they accepted their gift and scurried away, only to return moments later. Kristina and her friend played in my grass that afternoon while I finished what I had to do.
Since that day, their visits became frequent and sometimes Kristina would come by herself. No matter what I was doing, they always wanted to help. But I think they really just wanted to be involved in whatever I was doing. And I’ve never run out of finding things to have them help me with, reinforcing their acts of kindness by letting them know how very much they are appreciated for what they do.
Let’s see, Kristina has helped me pull weeds (well, okay, she really was just able to get the leaves off the big ones), water the plants, and sand my back door before I painted it. Oh, and helped me clean bird cages – and of course, her favorite, feeding the birds. All the while we talk and we share. Sometimes we laugh together and sometimes I just listen. She doesn’t come over very often any more, but when she does, I try to make time.
My doorbell rang again the other day. Kristina wanted to visit the birds, then she wanted to draw. I brought out the paper and crayons. The heart is what she made for me. She asked me as she drew what I do when I visit the nursing home. I told her about how the man who I visit shares her love for art. She wanted to come with me. Her mom later told me she had been talking about it every day until that Sunday. What a wonderful day that was.
I love Kristina’s heart. It’s now displayed on my refrigerator above what she wrote for me on the meaning of friends. Isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is all about?
For three months they’d been asking their parents to come a little early so they could complete laps around the gym, all on their own initiative. They walked and skipped and hopped, sometimes as much as 10 times around before they started the day’s lesson.
However, this project wasn’t just about getting in shape and having fun, it was about doing something good for other people. For each lap the kids counted, their friends and family pledged them a penny, or contributed a non-perishable food item. Step-by-step, coin-by-coin, the donations added up. By the end, they had collectively raised 10,300 pennies (and 75 pounds of food).
Judy Haverkos, co-coordinator for the Gamble-Nippert YMCA program, said the students chose to give their earnings to Santa Maria Community Services. The food went to the Manna Food Pantry. H.A. Musser, Jr., Santa Maria president explained to the group why their efforts were so important.
Did the kids understand they were doing a good thing? Absolutely! “I like helping people,” said Aiden.
“Community service helps teach them character values and teamwork. Coupling that with having fun while being active is really a great teaching tool,” said Cindy Klopp, the other co-coordinator.
The coin project was just one of many enrichment activities for children in YMCA homeschool programs. Haverkos said their group is studying artists, helping the branch ‘go green’, and learning American Sign Language.
Pictured are kids who helped raise money – Victoria Freudiger; Hannah Musser; Oscar Allen; Aiden Bezdek; Samuel Musser; Nathan DeVoe. David and Rose Homelle; Adriana and Alexandria Norton; Mary Nerswick; and Joe Dupont also helped fund raise but weren’t available for the photo.
If you haven’t yet heard about Mattie Stepanek, let me tell you about him. In June 2004, three years before he would have been old enough to drive, he lost his brave battle with a rare and fatal neuromuscular disease.
In his life, he experienced the difficult loss of three siblings. He endured physical, emotional and spiritual pain. But Mattie was an astute young boy who had profound wisdom about things that matter most. He celebrated life every day. He recognized the beauty in everyday circumstance and he lived knowing happiness is never out of reach, if you just look with your heart.
Mattie began sharing his thoughts when he was just three years old. His poems and essays are among the most beautiful I’ve ever read. They are his legacy, his heartsongs.
Believing in Someday
We will all join hands
And live together…
Helping each other,
Loving each other,
We will all make the world
A much better place…
And be like a gigantic,
Smoothly rushing river of peace –
A loving circle that nothing can break,
We may start with just one person,
And one permanent peace agreement
Within one’s self, within one’s world.
Personal peace can then spread
Within and between the families,
Then within and between communities,
And then within and around the whole world.
We can become
As close to perfect
As anything and anyone can get.
Let us each join our own Heartsong
With this old song of the heart, and believe…
“Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”
Written in 2000 when Mattie was 9
They say friends are those who remain by our side through the good times and the hardships. They’re our crutch when we’ve been knocked down, and our wings when we’re ready to soar. They’re people like Dynette Clark – and Suzy Hummel, Liesl Roeder, and Bridget Kleinhenz, the co-founders of a unique foundation that provides funding for the medical needs of children when parents or guardians don’t have the financial resources or insurance coverage to pay for it.
The idea for Building Blocks for Kids Foundation evolved from one parent, Dynette, wanting more than anything to find $25,000 in assistance for a little girl’s necessary therapy not covered by insurance. The little girl’s mom, Judy, happens to be a close friend of Dynette’s. And, as friends do, Dynette wasn’t about to give up until she had the money in hand.
With the help of Suzy, Liesl, and Bridget, about $12,000 was raised in a 2002 fund raising event. One year later, the foundation had been created to help other kids as well. Seven children where given assistance in its second year, 21 children received funds in the third year, and about 50 kids are being helped annually now with much larger requests.
Some of what the Foundation funds are therapy, modifications to the living environment, programs and devices to help a child interact with his/her world, and mobility such as transportation adaptations. During the holiday season, Building Blocks for Kids has an Adopt a Child program. Pictures and information of children are posted on their website (the first 15 or so kids are those who are on the waiting list for funds) and individuals or groups can help pay for the child’s needs.
For more information on Building Blocks for Kids and their Adopt a Child program, you can visit their web site at www.bb4k.org.
(Pictured: Dynette Clark holding Syndi, standing with Syndi’s mom Judy at the Foundation’s 2003 benefit)
In Jeffrey Thomas Hayden’s short life, he was a gifted student, a competitor, and a good friend of Chelsea. He loved sports but he especially loved a challenge. That was to be his greatest strength and his greatest loss. It was September, 2004, one month shy of his 12th birthday, when he lost his valiant battle with an inoperable brain tumor. Chelsea was one of his biggest fans and prayerful supporters. His death left a chasm in her heart but she never wanted to forget her friend. Barely a teenager herself, she began the tireless journey alongside Jeffrey’s parents raising money and awareness to save the lives of other children sharing the same diagnosis. This fall marks the fifth year for Chelsea’s JTH Foundation Book Drive for Children’s Hospital held in her best friend’s memory. With more than 15 Lakota schools now involved, she’s collected more than $20,000 in books, dvd’s, and videos. Chelsea also volunteers for a therapeutic riding program at Winton Woods where she’s learned great respect for the children’s abilities to push themselves out of their comfort zones. Active in and out of school, she has earned the Bronze and Silver Awards in Girl Scouts and is a member of the National Honor Society, the Student Task Force Community Service Program, and has participated in mission trips to rural Liberty, Kentucky. “Community service is important to me because I should use my talents to help those in need. It is very fulfilling to be able to do good towards others and see it expand,” Chelsea said.
Chelsea is one of 40 teens who will be honored on November 6 by the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati for exemplifying the YMCA’s core character values – caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. In my communication work with the YMCA, I have had the greatest pleasure to learn about and get to know them all. They are true inspirations. Thank you to the YMCA for working to instill character values in young people, and for celebrating those who choose to live their lives with character!
To learn more about the YMCA Character Awards, you can visit www.myy.org.