Those who assume our children seldom make meaningful contributions are wrong. History affirms that, given the opportunity, they will always meet the challenge. America’s children volunteer more often than their adult counterparts.
Following are three true stories. I’ll bet you can think of many others. If not, ask our own Pat Wilson about Habitat For Humanity or the priests of Saint Paul’s, particularly Father Dennis, about the work of Bloomington college students in foreign, impoverished countries.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, young people would walk railroad tracks with gunny sacks. They would search for coal fallen from coal trains. The weather prediction for the last weekend of November 1936 near Chicago was bitter cold with heavy lake-effect snow. A coal run along the tracks was needed immediately. Anyone willing to help was being asked to dress warm, bring lots of gunny sacks, flashlights and lanterns. Be prepared for an all-nighter. At 6 p.m. on Saturday it was 10 degrees above zero.
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The first group took off. They would work a three-mile stretch of track. Soon there were 12 more ready to go. Sometime around 10 p.m., the first group came back half-frozen, but their sacks were full.
“How bad is it out there?”
“When you get warmed up, take a first load to Kominski’s house. They have no heat at all. When you get back we will tell you who else needs immediate help.”
The night continued to be bitter cold, but throughout that night, coal continued to be collected.
Monday morning, there was a tired group of youths sitting around a warm, potbellied stove drinking cups of coffee. They were poor and unemployed, but they could see pride in the eyes and smiling faces of one another. They were tired but sleep could wait. This moment was too precious and needed to be savored.
While I was a high school teacher, a close college friend who was working with handicapped children came to me and said, “Ray, at our facility we are doing ‘patterning’ with severely handicapped children. It takes six people to assist one child to mimic the activity of crawling in hopes that repeated activity might stimulate the brain. We simply don’t have enough staff. We are in desperate need of volunteers. Is there any possibility that a few of your students might help?”
“Buddy, I will ask in all of my classes and put a form on the bulletin board for anyone who might like to sign and volunteer.”
Two days later I called Buddy. “Can you handle 200 volunteers?”
Over the next months, the parents of these handicapped children watched this collective, generous act unfold. Their comforted smiles and damp eyes said it all.
The principal of Washington Elementary School, in concert with his teachers had a dream. If they could get but 40 volunteer mentors, they could arrange the school’s daily schedule so the volunteers could work eight hours a week with first and second graders most in need of one-on-one help. The principal and senior high students of the adjoining school district heard the call. One hundred and twenty senior high students volunteered. Most of the volunteers resided in the same community as the primary students.
During the next three years much was learned besides reading and math. Years later, those who participated as volunteers continued to see their participation as one of the most important moments of their lives.
Take pride in our children America — they have been and always will be our true strength and honor.