Since this is the season for giving, I decided to dedicate this column to children and programs I’ve learned more about in the Ottawa school district. The difficult part was not in seeing the many acts of kindness and of giving, but in narrowing it down enough to fit into my two columns for December.
In all the elementary schools, the counselors lead lessons on character education. Each month brings a new character to learn about in various ways. Students work on the character trait throughout the month. The character highlight for November was “caring.” Students at Garfield Elementary School carried out the theme for the month but did not stop there. “The BRAVES,” a student group that meets weekly, is a spin-off of “BOB,” an attempt to stop bullying in all of the schools. The new group meets and works on various activities to help Garfield students. Its members recently decided to use “caring” to carry out a service project for this month.
The BRAVES members asked sponsors and teachers if they could honor their retired custodian, Gary Wilson, by having a fund drive for him and his family. They knew Wilson had to take early retirement because of ALS, after working for the school district for 12 years. They wanted to help Wilson because of stories they heard about all of the kindness he had shared with Garfield students. They told about him being an adult who would listen to them if the day was just not going right. They told about him cleaning up their messes, in the lunch room, but never making them feel badly. They told about the funny stories he would share. One boy told about him having to clean the restrooms over and over, but never complaining. One boy told me, “Helping kids brought joy to Mr. Wilson’s face,” and then he added, “I miss him so much.”
The group sent out a note to announce the program and decided to include two other families in the drive — families that were encountering difficult illnesses. The money quickly started coming in. The Garfield fifth-graders decided to step up to the plate and added a lollipop sale to the money jar efforts. They made more than $200 in one short session selling lollipops. As this goes to press, the drive is not finished, but the students have brought in more than $500 for Wilson and the other families. They have, however, brought in much more than that. They have very fond memories of their custodian, and they know in their hearts they have stepped up and helped a friend.
They also have learned that an idea, however small, could be accomplished if everyone works together.
We all should be proud of our students. They took one lesson and turned it into a great humanitarian project. Way to go, BRAVES and all other Garfield students.
Marge Stevens is an Ottawa school board member.