I was not on board at first.
I didn’t say that out loud, I kept that to myself. But I was less than enthusiastic. It was tough to get my head around the logistics and the point of the whole thing.
However, it wasn’t my vision and I wasn’t about to squash someone else’s big idea. So I got on board, albeit reluctantly.
The “it” was a gift shop for students to purchase items for someone they love. They paid for the gift using a Kindness Ticket they had earned by doing something nice for others. The store would be stocked with gently used items from staff and community.
We had close to 500 students. That’s a lot of items to collect. A lot of kindness tickets to distribute, a lot gifts to wrap which requires a lot of manpower.
Not my vision, not my idea to squash.
So I asked friends for donations and scoured our home for items that might be suitable. And it started to come together. A former office was converted into a shop and the gifts began to pour in.
Another concern I had was over how the students would feel about choosing a second-hand item instead of something new. Many of our kids live close to the poverty line and I was worried about their dignity. Again, I trusted those who were leading the project and kept my doubts to myself. I started catching my students doing things for others and handed out our Kindness Tickets.
Remember the manpower issue? Not an issue. Retired teachers and university volunteers along with community members manned the store and it was up and running. Any doubt I had that this might not work were swept away when my first student was invited to go shopping. The pride in earning a ticket was overshadowed by the absolute joy they had upon their return to our classroom with a carefully wrapped gift in hand.
Some students announced what they had bought and who it was for while others decided to keep it a secret. The care and thought that went into each purchase was staggering. The supportive excitement they had for each other’s selections was unexpected. They even scouted out possible gifts for their friends to select: “I saw a purse that would be perfect for your grandma!”
The Kindness Gift Shop was a success.
The next year it was decided to do it again. Would we have enough items a second year? Would the novelty have worn off? Would people be willing to volunteer again.
Yes. Donations rolled in. My own parents contributed rolls of wrapping paper along with gift items. The timing of their downsizing move to a condo was ideal. I brought a trunk full of supplies from a town two hours away because I matter to my family and so my school matters to them.
We are a few years in now and this November when I announced to my class that the Kindness Gift Shop would be happening it was met unanimously with cheers followed quickly by outbursts of their plans.
“Last year I got a gift for my mom so this year I’m getting something for my baby sister.”
“I’m getting something for my grandma this year!”
“I can’t wait to get something for pops. I don’t have any money, but he deserves something special.”
New and returning volunteers signed up to help. Wrapping supplies were restocked and new Kindness Tickets were distributed.
As the week of the shop opening approached one student asked me if everyone had earned their ticket yet. I explained that while we have a kind group, a few still needed to be recognized. That’s when my heart grew three sizes.
“Has Josh* received one yet? Because I saw him helping Amina with her math and he deserves one.”
“What about Ryan? He always lets us use his smelly markers.”
“Asia needs her ticket because she invites anyone to join her games at break.”
“I notice that Daniel always looks out for Chris and they have become really good friends.”
“Can we tell you about kids from other classes that have been kind?”
This went on for ten minutes or more. They stopped asking if their classmates had gotten their tickets and just kept sharing all the positive things they noticed about each other. Kids who sometimes went under the radar heard how they were seen by their peers and they sat a bit taller. Students would nod and murmur their agreement about the kind attributes others mentioned. This was a turning point in our classroom community and for me. It’s nice to be noticed by your teacher, but it’s powerful to be recognized by your classmates.
It’s not easy to change or try new things. We are creatures of habit and seek comfort in the predictable. I’m grateful for those who took a risk and thought big. I’m grateful to work with educators who take chances and make a difference. I’m grateful to be part of a community who seeks to care for students they might never meet.
When someone thinks big, support them.
And maybe tell your doubts to just pipe down.