A 3-Year Old Learns about Giving
I am sure you know about the tragedy at Sandy Hook where twenty children were killed along with six teachers in Connecticut. As it turns out, one of the teachers who survived and has been hailed as a hero, Maryrose Kristopik, was once a music teacher of mine.
Shortly after the event I read a quote from Fred (Mister) Rogers. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am comforted by realizing there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in the world.”
Many of the people I know wanted to get involved and do something. Someone I know actually did and started a group for us to work together. She calls it, “20 Good Deeds for 20 Little Angels.” We select certain charitable works which would have appealed to the children and do them in their name.
Allen and I have been doing these good deeds with Gabriel to try and teach him about philanthropy. Teaching philanthropy to a three year old is complicated enough. We decided to start this during Christmas season which complicated the lesson further. Still, it has allowed us to spend more time together doing things and building memories. That’s what really matters.
We started with a race for Chase Kowalski. Chase completed his first triathlon at six years old. In his honor we did what is called a virtual half marathon. You can do the distance anytime, anywhere and in any increment as long as you complete the full 13.1 miles. It took three weeks for us to find time to have Gabriel run the full distance. He finished on a Sunday and we set up a red crepe ribbon for him to run through at the finish line. He earned a medal, but it had not arrived before he finished. So I gave him the first medal I ever earned, the Disney Marathon medal.
For our next “deed” we cooked dinner for a local firehouse in honor of Daniel Barden who wanted to be a fireman like many in his family. When we were at the firehouse Gabriel was given the opportunity to play in the fire truck for awhile. As it turns out he just received a fire truck, firemen and a big firehouse from his grandparents for Christmas. Since making dinner for them he has occasionally gathered his firemen around the table to have dinner together. Thankfully his firemen are satisfied with pretzels and gummy treats.
Head Start is a program here in South Carolina that is designed to prepare children to enter school. We went through Gabriel’s books and the piles of children’s books at Books-a-million and collected books to donate to Head Start in the name of Madeline Hsu as she was an avid reader and loved books of all kinds.
Allison Wyatt’s family told a story about travelling on a plane with her. She had snacks for the trip and insisted on sharing them with the people around her. In her honor we donated boxes of cereal to the Ronald McDonald House. When we did this event I thought of my friend Rachel from the eighth grade. Her parents were missionaries in the Philippines and they were only home for a year on furlough. I only knew her for that one year and have not seen her since, but we have managed to stay in touch through the years. She has a child who has required extensive care due to Rett Syndrome and they often stay at a Ronald McDonald House while she is in the hospital. I hope she approves of our cereal choice!
Jessica Rekos loved everything about horses from riding them to reading about them. In her honor we sponsored a child to take lessons with Dream Riders. They are a group which provides equine therapy to children. Children not only get to ride there, but also learn how to care for the horses and what goes into training. We didn’t actually get to go out and meet the horses, so we chose to spend that night playing with the toy horses Tom and Yi-Yi gave to Gabriel and watching Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
Caroline Previdi was a little girl who loved to laugh and be a clown. In her honor we ran a 5K called “Red Shoe Run”, where people dress up as clowns to run the race. This race also benefited the Ronald McDonald House. As it turns out, it was very cold that day and many people chose not to turn out. Those who did chose not to dress up in any costumes. We stood out a little bit, but we got some great pictures out of it!
Jesse Lewis was a brave little boy. He did his best to stand up for what was right and protect his friends. In his honor we wrote to troops and sent cookies. Gabriel does not write yet, so I wrote the letters and Gabriel decorated them with stickers. Normally he would want help peeling stickers, but for this event Allen and I were sent away from the room while he did his work.
Emilie Parker was a budding artist who was never without her markers and paper to make pictures wherever she was. In her honor we ran a race to benefit Girls on the Run which is an organization to encourage young girls to participate in 5K races in this area. The part Emilie would have loved is that it was a Color Run where volunteers throw paint at the runners as they go by. Gabriel was hit by all the colors, but apparently GREEN was the most accurate.
On March 9th we ran in the “Pacing for Pieces” races in honor of Dylan Hockley, who had Autism. There was a 5K event for Gabriel, Allen and our friend Vicky and a half-marathon for me to run. Both races benefited an organization called Vital Interventions Accessible which provides for care that other programs do not cover for children with autism.
Charlotte Bacon was a little girl who loved to dress up in very pretty dresses. The Cinderella Project collects dresses and jewelry with previous experience in order to give girls the “Cinderella Experience” and attend their proms. Gabriel did not have much interest in the dresses we collected, but he played with the “pirate treasure” all the way to the donation site.
Olivia Engel was a Daisy Scout and would have started selling Girl Scout cookies this year. Josephine Gay also had autism, but she set up and ran a lemonade stand in her front yard every summer. We chose to honor them together by sending Girl Scout cookies and lemonade to college students currently preparing for final exams.
Benjamin Wheeler was the son of very musically talented parents. He had just performed in his first piano recital. Ana Marquez-Greene was the daughter of a Jazz singer and by all accounts had been singing all of her short life. My Grandmama was the organist in almost every church she ever attended. When she passed I received a stack of music she had kept through the years. I do not play the organ or the piano and was not entirely sure what to do with it. A few years ago I started working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina. I work with a man, Ken Anderson, who is not only from the same town where my Grandmama grew up (Florence), but he is also an organist. He has a daughter in school that has an amazing voice. She and her fellow students have auditions and pieces to rehearse from time to time. In his spare time Ken not only teaches several children to play the piano, but also plays for voice students to practice or audition. When I brought the music to him he carefully went through each piece and told me about all the memories they brought back for him. There are even some pieces in there he is sure his daughter will love to sing. I could not have asked for a better home for this music or a more fitting tribute for these children.
Catherine Hubbard’s middle name was Violet. In her honor Gabriel and I ran a race here in Saluda where participants are asked to wear the color purple. The races benefits cancer research and each runner was given a luminary which will be placed at the Relay for Life event in Saluda. Gabriel won a medal for first place in his age group. My only distinction that day was I was the only person wearing a purple wig.
Noah Pozner was the youngest of four children. He knew the importance of both big brothers and big sisters. In April Gabriel and I ran races to support Big Brothers and Big Sisters of South Carolina. Gabriel won another award at that race which will have to be sent to him. Once we receive the award we are going to the Mexican restaurant to celebrate as it was a dream of Noah’s to own a “Taco Factory.”
(The Monday before this race, the Boston Marathon was bombed. Three people were killed and nearly 200 were wounded. The day before this race the two men responsible were captured and one was killed. Now it is time for the city to heal. We have not even finished honoring the children of one tragedy when another took place. That is why rather than wearing the colors of the Boston Marathon or the names of any one in particular Gabriel’s shirt reads simply, “Look for the Helpers.” We still do and thankfully, they are still there to be found.)
Grace McDonnell loved crafts and making things for people. In her honor we have found a woman who makes clothing for the children in her community and we gave her a sewing machine. Her name in Minnie Pearl Banks. Some of you may remember a different Minnie Pearl who played on the TV show Hee Haw many years ago. When my Grandmama wrote the memories of her life she actually referenced this woman. It seems that my Daddy, Harley, had teased her growing up that when she would call, “Har-ley!” from the house door to call him inside she sounded like Minnie Pearl who would call, “How-dee!” from the back door of the house in every episode. The sign behind Gabriel’s head is the sign on her front door and it reads, “Today is a Blessing.”
Avielle Richman loved animals, especially the soft and furry kind. In her honor we donated blankets to our local animal shelter. This shelter not only rescues animals, but also works hard to place them in good homes. We were hoping to trick Allen into letting us get another puppy that day, but Nikita was the one to actually nix the idea. It seems she is only willing to play well with others for just so long. As it turns out, the night we chose to do this it started to rain. The shelter was closed, so we ran around in the rain trying to find the driest place for our donation. Gabriel’s friend Ira was there along with this mother and brother. Our little adventure could have been an absolute disaster, but we had the right people with us. Instead there was plenty of laughter and a successful donation.
Our last two children to honor were Jack Pinto and James Mattioli. On 11 May we ran our final race for the children of Sandy Hook. Jack and James loved to play sports and be part of team events. That is why we chose to honor them together with a race that is a team event. It is a mud run with lots of obstacles. It is not the sort of race you do alone. It is one where you rely on the members of your team to see you over, under, around and sometimes through the obstacles. The good news is you get to choose your team. Much like it is in life, if you choose your team wisely, it can be a really fun run no matter what obstacles you encounter.
~Contributed by Christine Patrick
Contractor with DP Professionals
Text and photos reprinted with permission