It’s easy to forget just how caring people can be – and how a small group of individuals can make a difference for others. Well, I’d like to share a story of how a small group of teen students came through with flying colors for at-risk children in Osceola County, Florida.
I am on the board of a charity called Give Kids Safe Shelter, which helps six agencies that serve at-risk children. Each December, we conduct a gift drive called “Be An Angel” in order to provide holiday gifts for children who would otherwise receive none (or very few). We ask each of our agencies to provide a Wish List of gifts for the children they serve, and then try to fill as many as possible.
Enter the Glocal Club (Global/Local Club) at TECO (Technical Education Center Osceola), led by teacher Stephanie Middleton (who was also named the Osceola County School District Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014) and Julia Ullman, who leads the Hispanic Honor Society.
Two years ago, Stephanie’s students volunteered to help us sort and wrap the gifts we’d collected. As we realized we didn’t have enough, our board made a quick decision to use $800 of our funds to buy eighty $10 Walmart gift cards, so at least 80 more teens would get something that year. Unfortunately, even with those 80 cards, we still had teens who would not receive a gift.
The sad truth is that teens are the “forgotten” group at the holidays. Everyone loves to buy and donate baby and toddler gifts because they are fun, inexpensive and easy. But teens are harder (and more expensive) to buy for, so they are too often left out.
As our teen volunteers watched us check off names from a list, assigning one $10 gift card to each of 80 names, they got choked up as they asked, “Is that all they’ll get?” They got even more choked up when they saw the list of teens who wouldn’t even get that much because we were out of gifts and funds.
When they returned to school the next day, they told Stephanie that “this would not happen again next year!” They held fundraisers, spread the word, and requested help from others. By the time the Be An Angel program geared up the following year, they had raised a lot of money themselves and had many teachers and students waiting in the wings to find out what more may be needed. Remembering that teens are often overlooked, they requested the wish lists of the teens, so they could focus on getting as much as possible for them.
Here’s where it gets REALLY special! One item was so unusual, we all thought there was no way this wish could be granted. It was for a team jacket for a soccer team in another country! Most of us just figured that we’d have to get the other items on that boy’s wish list and kiss the jacket goodbye because it would be impossible to get.
But our teens taught us that we should never underestimate the willpower of a group of dedicated individuals. They started asking if anyone knew anyone with connections in the soccer world. Turns out, one of the teachers had a friend in California, who had a friend in South America (where the team was located)… six degrees of separation, right?
Long story short (or maybe too late for that!), the jacket was purchased in South America and shipped to the friend in California, who shipped it to the teacher in Florida, who donated it to our program… and we were able to fill even that wild wish for that child!
You should have seen the teacher’s face when I went to pick up the gifts. She couldn’t wait to load the gifts into my car, and show me the very special gift of that jacket, which made my jaw drop. I couldn’t wait to show our board members… and every one of us wished we could have been a fly on the wall when that child opened that present on Christmas morning.
This year, we’re repeating the program again, and Stephanie and Julia’s students have rallied the troops once more. They have not only committed to fulfilling the wishes of 40 of our teens, but they filled our volunteer roster within two hours of posting the request to the group… so we’re all looking forward to another touching, surprising, and heart-warming holiday season again this year.
We’re also hopeful that most, if not all, of our agencies’ children’s wishes will be filled this year because, as it turns out, a child who took the risk to put an unusual request on his list, and a group of teens who took the risk to go all out and accomplish that goal, taught us a very important lesson in the power of dreaming, asking, acting… and serving others from the bottom of our hearts.