A Lesson in Giving Back to the Community
I always wanted my eighth grade students to learn lessons beyond the books, beyond formal learning. For that reason, I looked for ways they could give back to their community.
Of course, there were always obstacles to overcome and problems to solve in order for things to happen as planned. School administrators were always concerned about supervision and insurance and wanted to know who would be responsible for students, who was in charge of activities, and who made sure students arrived home safely. Of course, that concern was necessary, but I wanted students to live life fully while learning more about themselves.
I convinced students, since they had received much from the community, that they could show their appreciation with a car wash, one that was free of charge.
We made posters, distributed them to parents, and placed the posters in conspicuous places. We advertised it to be a one day event, a community celebration to show how much we had enjoyed parent participation all year long.
Parents volunteered to help me supervise, and I obtained permission for students to meet at the local high school parking lot. Students were placed in small groups and assigned shifts to wash cars, dry cars, or to collect money.
It was questionable how many students would show up and would want to participate. In anticipation though, I had borrowed extra hoses, sponges, towels, and soap.
Arriving early I was pleasantly surprised that some students along with their parents had already layed out supplies. Soon other incoming parents brought large containers of coffee to share with others. They pulled up folding chairs to watch the proceedings and to visit with friends. What could have been a long morning of hard work was turning into a festival.
On schedule cars lined up, waiting to be washed. Students eagerly began, at first serious and focused, giving each car careful attention. Two hours passed and the cars were still coming. By now, students were tiring and their focus had changed.
One student sprayed water at other students. A chase began but I stopped the participants, knowing that inaction invited mayhem and a potential disaster.
I summoned the students together. “One more hour,” I said, “and we will be done. You have all done a fine job. Let’s finish what you started and make your parents proud.”
With that small pep talk, they began anew, their goal in sight. We were back on schedule to complete our good deed, unaware our plan would be thwarted.
Life often changes directions and brings surprises. In this case it was definitely good. Word of our free car wash had gotten around. Cars seemed to come from everywhere, lining up and waiting patiently. The cars were followed by four semis and trailers.
Suddenly the line halted and a commotion ensued. I rushed over and discovered that people were arguing with the student money collectors.
Over our protests the drivers were insisting on paying a fee. “This is refreshing,” one motorist said enthusiastically, “to have teenagers wanting to give to others. I’d gladly give to see that happen anytime.”
One hour passed, and then another. Knowing students were tired and eager to go home, we finally closed the car wash, collected our supplies, and began tallying the money. We were amazed at the generosity of our community. One, two, three, over four hundred dollars! How would the class spend this new fortune?
Rather than waste the money frivolously, the class put the money into a bank account, “Seed money”, for the incoming eighth grade class. The class also issued a challenge. “What would the new eighth grade class do for others?”
Our efforts to give to the community had back-fired in a good way. The community had given to us once again.
It was totally a win-win situation. Our class felt appreciated, the community felt appreciated, and I, perhaps, learned the greatest lesson of all. Giving with an open heart without expecting any returns often comes back to you in unexpected ways.
By Dan Roberson