As a child, I remember the overwhelming excitement that would consume me on my birthday, when I would get to pick out a new pair of shoes. It was such a moment of joy because purchasing new items did not happen often in my world. My parents, who worked extremely hard, always had to find ways to save money so each of us five children would have what we needed. The most common way to save money was the classic hand-me-down. While I loved the clothes and backpacks that were handed down from my older sister, nothing quite beat the moment when I got to pick out my very own. That moment of knowing I had picked something out that was just for me, something that no one had owned before me and still had a tag on it, meant the world to a young kid.
As I got older, resentment started to build in me that other students had so much more than me; a new back pack each year, pencils with their names on them and more than one pair of shoes in their closet. One night, my freshman year in high school, my father took me with him to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items for dinner. While we were in the store, my father stopped by the deli counter and ordered an eight piece chicken meal with family sized sides of mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and corn. He even ordered rolls. I remember thinking that my mother was going to be so angry, because she was cooking dinner at home and here he was purchasing a whole new meal. As we got into to the car, my father handed me the bags of food to hold and then we began to leave the parking lot. He stopped the car next to a man in dirty and tattered clothes at the entrance to the parking lot. My father then asked me to hand him the bags of hot food. Confused, I handed my father the bags and he passed them to the homeless gentleman. He told the man to have a good night and a warm meal. I sat in shock that he would give away so much food when I knew we didn’t even have the money to buy me a new pair of shoes for school. My father then explained to me that there were people in the world that had far less than we did. He told me that the meal he purchased would not only feed that man, but probably several friends that the man would share the meal with that night, because even a man with no roof over his head would share his food with another hungry person.
This moment in time began to form within me a desire to help those that were in greater need than me. I joined the Future Business Leaders of America soon after and helped raise enough money to purchase gifts and food for two families in need. When I brought home the goodies we had bought for the families and my father saw how few toys we were able to purchase, he told me that no child should have so few presents. He put on his jacket and left immediately. When he came back, we had a small mountain of toys to wrap for our delivery the next day. Again, my father showed me how we could always give a little more to those in greater need than ourselves.
Since high school, I have continued to find small ways to help my community, but had not found a way to extend my reach. In 2015, I was invited to join the Junior Service League of Woodstock. There I found a group of women with the same heart to serve as myself, but with deeper connections and the ability to execute that turned a desire into a plan. In early 2016, I reached out to a local organization called Give a Kid a Chance in Cherokee County to see how the league could help. They informed me that they needed a group or person to help head up their Backpack Liaison Board Chair. I happily accepted.
The board position came with its fair share of difficulties and gave me several opportunities to learn how to better the quality of life for the residents of Cherokee County. This particular project spoke to me because of my experiences growing up. As I began gathering these brand new backpacks, I knew the excitement these children would feel as they chose their very own bag, new with tags. They may not show it on the outside, but I knew the relief they would feel when they got to walk in on the first day with something new, filled with the items they would not only need, but be proud to carry. This project took on an extremely personal tone for me.
This project took five months to complete. In those five months we were able to gather 2,900 backpacks, 8,000 pairs of new socks and underwear, and over 8,000 books. On the day of the event, the smiles I saw, as children looked over the thousands of backpacks to choose from and found one they loved, made every minute of hard work worthwhile. My favorite moment was when a young boy going into the sixth grade came up to choose his backpack with his hands full of Harry Potter books. As we helped him load his books into his new bag, he told me how excited he was because he knew his mom couldn’t afford the books and they were always checked out at the library. As he spoke, his mother stood behind him with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. This moment encapsulated the very reason I wanted to be a part of this project.
In all, we served 2,500 students in our community, but each one of those students has a story similar to mine and that young boy. The committee has already begun preparing for the Give a Kid a Chance program in 2017 and I look forward to being a part of program again as the Backpack Liaison Board Chair. I believe we can change the world one act of kindness at a time. If we work on improving our own communities and spreading acts of love and kindness, we can slowly start to make the world a better place.
For more info on the Give a Kid a Chance program, check out their website: http://www.giveakidachance.org/