The students in my school run a program each year called Pay It Forward.
They write a note to parents suggesting that rather than buy gifts for teachers for the holiday season, they make a donation instead to a Pay It Forward fund.
The money is then used to purchase items for needy families.
Historically, the emphasis was on purchasing items for children, but this year something changed.
One of the students, a 12-year-old doing some community service in a home for the elderly, discovered that some residents had not received gifts or holiday cards for years.
She made an impressive appeal to her peers, reminding them that many organizations collect toys and items for needy children, but had they ever heard of an organization that collected items for the “invisible elderly?”
They hadn’t, and since they all had good relationships with their grandparents, they were sympathetic to the cause.
Pay It Forward, at least for this year, took a new direction for them.
The next step was to find someone who actually coordinated such a service and have that person educate students on the needs of the elderly.
Through her connections at the home, in which she volunteered, the student found a woman who ran an organization called “Seniors Wish” that focused on raising awareness of the needs of the elderly.
To her credit, the woman who spoke to the students did not tell a lot of sad stories of neglected seniors. Instead, she focused on what a caring community does for all members who need assistance, young and old.
She talked about living with dignity and feeling the support of others.
She challenged students to contact their own grandparents regularly an to show some interest in elderly neighbours who might appreciate an occasional hello or simple offer of help.
What could young people do for complete strangers?
She was careful to emphasize the importance of doing only what a student could commit to.
She warned them not to run out, full of good intentions, and then return, after the holidays, to neglecting the needs of anyone, stranger, neighbour or grandparent.
“I’m not here to motivate you to impulsive action,” she said, “but to have you consider doing something small that you can do consistently.”
The money from Pay It Forward will be used to create gift baskets to be delivered to some elderly people who have no support.
Many of the students are planning to include notes and artwork and a few have committed to learning more about community service options with the elderly.
Best of all, they have all learned, at least for a moment, to look at the world through the eyes of a vulnerable generation that they had not considered prior to this.
And the young girl who started it all?
She’s learned that if you feel strongly about something and take action to find others to help you, then you can make things happen.
There will be a few elderly people during this year’s holiday season who will undoubtedly benefit from her work and it will make the holidays that much more special for them and her.
Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.