Imagine a scene of great devastation. A tornado has ravaged the area and debris and pieces of interrupted lives blemish the broken landscape.
A person walks within the wreckage and looks for other people to assist. She delivers donated items and pauses to speak with the victims and other volunteers. She also works inside a large tent shelter with other traveling volunteers who are distributing meals to more than 300 people. The food was donated by friends and family that this person helped rally together for the cause.
She has traveled hundreds of miles to work side by side with others who have decided to take time out of their comfortable and busy lives to support people in their hour of greatest need. Boots on the ground, hands in the work, her heart is in the undertaking.
As she labors on the tasks at hand, state and community leaders come to thank her for helping with the crisis. She is given tokens of appreciation in recognition of the time she has spent engaged in caring for others.
She takes a moment to offer a hug to someone that has lost everything; intuitively knowing that when all seems lost, it is our humanity that brings people back from the brink of despair.
She comprehends that she is sharing hope for a new day. Her actions speak and she knows it. They tell those in crisis that they are not alone, that recovery is not only possible but around the corner. That people do care when all seems lost, and that a shoulder to lean on is what rebuilds the world.
And who is this great leader that we can all learn from? A civil servant, a famous humanitarian, a civil rights leader, a noted philanthropist?
If you guessed a 5th grader, you would be correct. Meet Cheresse, a strong, quiet, helpful girl who has decided to live a life of intentional kindness.
Cheresse was a 5th grader in my Art class a few years ago. I opened my class each day by asking my students to take a few minutes and tell me about something kind they had done, or had seen someone else do, or share some kindness they had planned for the future.
These kindness reports were recorded on our kindness bulletin board in any color of ink they chose from our marker collection. At the end of the year we had a literal wall of multi-colored kindness to reflect upon. It contained brief pieces of many lives, individual acts of consideration which together represented an army of a different kind.
During a kindness report, Cheresse shared with the class some of the work she had done. Her unassuming voice carried across the quiet classroom as she spoke in a simple and profound way about what she had learned about helping others in her eleven years.
Moved by her uncommon commitment to good work at such a tender age, I sent a note home to her mother to express my appreciation. Her mother sent a letter back to me that offered further detail about Cheresse’s efforts to demonstrate kindness. She let me know many amazing stories about her daughter’s heart for service, but also shared that her daughter served in more ordinary and less visible ways as well. She had recently visited another city and her father had handed Cheresse money to purchase a treat.
When she saw a man in a parking lot holding a sign that read, will work for food, Cheresse decided that the man with the sign needed help more than she needed an ice cream cone and handed the stranger her treat money. It was one of many examples of kindness I saw in Cheresse throughout 5th grade.
She left many marks on our kindness wall that year, but more importantly, at such a young age she had already left her mark on the world. I do not know where she is today, but it is a good bet that she is spreading kindness and goodwill.
As has been said before, the simple act of caring is heroic. Cheresse and the people in her life that helped her cultivate a concern for others are heroes we can all take a lesson from, at any age.