As a mother of three, I try my best to maintain perspective around the holidays and not lose track of what they’re really all about. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the year-end hustle and bustle — last-minute gift buying, parties, parking hassles, travel logistics and yes, inevitably STRESS.
I feel so fortunate to have the Go Inspire Go Community Heroes club to remind me to be present and keep focused on the important stuff — gratitude for family, friends and taking care of those who need a hand. I started the club at Sun Valley Elementary School in San Rafael, Calif., back in the fall of 2012 along with Toan Lam of Go Inspire Go to provide a platform for kids in my community to foster compassion and act to give back locally. Oh my, what a wonderful ride it’s been ever since!
For our holiday initiative, we teamed up with Adopt a Family of Marin, a great local organization that helps stabilize struggling families in Marin County, Calif., going through difficult circumstances. AAF provides essential safety-net services to these families — short-term financial assistance for housing, food vouchers, counseling. Around the holidays, they match families with those in the community who want to help ease their burden.
The Community Heroes kids were so excited to adopt two families: the Abundants and the Angelics (names changed). Dulce Abundant wears many hats. As a hard-working mom of a 3-year-old daughter, Bella Danielle, she holds down a full-time job AND is a full-time student. Needless to say, the Abundants live on a very tight budget. Dulce is making her way toward a brighter future, waiting for the day she graduates and is able to provide a better life for her daughter.
Abrenna Angelic, mom to energetic twin 2-year old boys (bless her heart, I remember those days!), recently lost her job and is waiting for unemployment benefits to kick in. She had no idea how she was going to pay her rent, much less get winter coats for herself or her sons. Being accepted into AAF’s holiday program has given Abrenna hope that she’ll make it through this rough period in her life and even have a merry Christmas with her boys.
The Community Heroes kids really want to know these families’ stories and understand what they’re experiencing. They care so much! We’ve talked about how these are real people, living in our very own town, and how we can all go through tough times and need a hand. My heart swelled when one of the kids said with conviction, “That could be ME. It could be any of us.” Yes, this forum is working! It’s not about us and them. We’re ALL human beings who need to look out for each other — especially when times are tough.
I shared the Abundants’ and Angelics’ wish lists with the school community and WOW!!! What an overwhelming response! Every time I checked the collection bin, it was filled to the brim with everything from household essentials like detergent, lotion and pots and pans to warm and fuzzy coats, hats and mittens, new clothes for the moms and some great toys for the three little toddlers. Way to open your hearts and your wallets, Sun Valley families! You have shown once again what an amazingly generous and kind-hearted community in which I am blessed to live.
The day of our end-of-semester party, the kids burst into the multi-purpose room, so ready to wrap presents and make cards for these families!. Many didn’t even want to eat lunch (I made them do so, anyway). The Ho-Ho-Ho paper and bows were soon flying — such a happy buzz in the air! Our awesome principal Julie Harris walked in, took a deep breath and summed it up. “WOW, this is amazing!” she said.
More kids than ever before showed up — at least 70 kids gave up their lunchtime to be a part of this happy celebration. We talked again about these families and how lucky we are to be able to help and how we will continue to help others throughout the year. Thanks to the great parents who showed up to pitch in as well as our beloved physical education coach Chad, we had all these presents wrapped and ready to deliver in our Santa minivan!
The Community Heroes club has been going gangbusters for a year and a half now. We’re getting bigger and gaining traction as more kids participate and more parents help out. I’m thrilled and honored to report that we’ve just received a LinkedIn for Good Social Innovation grant to replicate and scale the Community Heroes program! Watch out world, very soon our Community Heroes are gonna be making the world a much better place near YOU!
This stuff is contagious, I tell ya! It’s clear there’s a hunger these young kids have to give back. Just imagine the impact these kids will be making by the time they’re in high school. I’m so proud to be able to shepherd these wonderful students and to grow along with them. I can’t wait for all the great things to come in the new year. Happy Holidays and many blessings to you and yours!
Interested in starting your own Community Heroes club? –Stay tuned for a curriculum and tool kit to get one started in your school! Thanks again, LinkedIn for Social Good!
–Check out these videos for inspiration about the power kids have to start movements in their communities: Matthew Kaplan and the Be O.N.E Anti-Bullying Project and 5-year-old Phoebe Russell’s super-sized canned food drive.