Over the past year, I received two remarkable gestures from two Internet heroes. While I’ve certainly thought about their actions, I haven’t quite been able to find the words to tell the stories.
I’m still not sure I have those words.
But I want to share their gestures now for two reasons. I want to thank them again. More importantly, I want to share their kindness as a reminder that gifts can matter more than we can even imagine.
The ripple effects of these kind gestures speak for themselves, and they’re certainly worth sharing.
Kindness Case Study #1: A Rock & A Budget
It was early in December, and I was doing what most teachers do: I was trying to figure out how many Starbucks runs I could swing using nothing but my existing gift card balance.
I posted a screen grab of my anemic balance with the message “Stuck Between a Rock & My Budget” on Instagram Stories and found myself doing a lot of commiserating in my messages. It was a fun 24 hours, but then it passed. Truthfully, I didn’t think of it again.
At least not until I logged onto my blog email and noticed an email from Starbucks. I was puzzled. I clicked it open and there was the sweetest note from none other than Cait Flanders. She saw my Instagram Story and was wishing me a happy end of the semester.
After a moment of shock and then some brief fangirling, I felt something else: I felt the urge to give it back. Immediately. After all, I wasn’t In Need. She should have taken her $20 and spent them on someone else who truly needed the money.
To fast track you through a swirl of emotions, know this: I did keep the gift card. In fact, I enjoyed two lattes on it. Then, I noticed that our Starbucks was letting a homeless person rest in the cafe, and I promptly had the barista cash out what was left of the gift card onto another gift card and left it beside her things. It seemed like a small way to take Cait’s kindness and pay it even further forward.
What This Act Taught Me
It took a bit of thinking, and even some nervous conversation with Cait, but I found a new perspective on her kindness. She wasn’t sending me $20 because I didn’t have $20. I knew I did, and she knew I did (my Instagram joke wasn’t that lame).
She sent me the money to make me smile, to brighten my day, and to cheer me onto the finish line. We don’t have to give gifts to people only when they need them. It’s perfectly fine to brighten someone else’s day for no other reason than to do it.
Since that surprise Starbucks moment, I’ve actually added an extra $20 to our budget each month so we can pay it forward. It’s separate from our giving fund, and it goes to people, like our school counselor or custodians, who seem like they could use some cheering up or just an extra thanks. It’s fulfilling and just downright fun to see what a little bit of money and a lot of thought can do for someone.
Kindness Case Study #2: A Granola Bar in the Garbage
Because I am
bad at branding a Renaissance woman, my Twitter is a hodgepodge of all of my interests and passions. One of the things that I tweet about the most is teaching. Generally, I try to keep things lighthearted (like the fact that one of my students spent the better part of a week convincing us that Wyoming wasn’t a real place because no one had ever actually met anyone from Wyoming).
But sometimes I tell a different kind of story.
Even though I’m in a much more affluent district now than I used to be, I still watch kids struggle. And it still breaks my heart. In one tweet, I mentioned something about what it was like to watch kids sneak a granola bar out of the trash can or how much it hurts to watch a student have to stop working on a standardized test and go to the nurse from hunger pangs.
The ink on the tweet wasn’t even dry when Revanche from A Gai Shan Life sent me a DM. She had been asking for years to help, and I had always put her off. I gave her the same list of excuses: she could help local schools, she could help JB’s school, my school district actually was well off, and I could help my students. In fact, I was already buying snack bars for a few of my kids. One kiddo in particular was already enjoying a Nutri-Grain Bar on my dime every morning since the testing incident.
This time, Revanche persisted. She insisted on an address. I hesitated for a second, but only one second. She didn’t dox me when I helped her with an earlier fundraising effort and she was a Baby Whisperer Extraordinaire at my first FinCon with HP. So I gave her my home address.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but then the boxes started showing up. She shipped every flavor of Nutri-Grain Bar they make, plus a giant case of belVita breakfast biscuits. She also sent over two other boxes of snack bars for people with allergies.
Her reasoning was simple, she said. She was doing this on a principle: Giving the right people the right resources allows them to make a difference.
So that’s what I aimed to do.
The one student in particular who inspired my tweet was struggling. He was chronically absent; even when he attended, he almost never made it to my first hour class. A recent transfer from CPS, I knew his mom was having a hard time navigating a new life out here. Our district offers plenty of support for people who know how to navigate all the nonsense. (Spoiler: I’ve worked in the district for almost a decade and still don’t know it all.) So while I’m fairly certain this family should have qualified for free lunch, we didn’t have the paperwork. No paperwork, no food.
Armed with a cabinet of supplies, I asked him what he was most motivated by. He thought hard. While he thought, I prayed he wasn’t going to say Jolly Ranchers or Takis…or, you know, a Tesla or something. Instead, he said he really still wanted breakfast bars.
So, I offered him the opportunity to grab a bar for breakfast each time he came to class for the rest of the school year. I tried to float the idea that he could even come hang out in my room early with a few of his friends. They were welcome to snack, too.
The first few weeks were much of the same. He was absent. He was late. But I would still hand off a bar whenever I saw him.
Then, something started to happen. He would come to class earlier and earlier. He’d show up with a few buddies before school. They would work and eat in my room. Toward the end of the school year, I actually commented in a meeting that I couldn’t believe how much this student’s attendance situation had changed.
Last week, I actually had the opportunity to tell him and his family two things: he met his growth goals in reading AND in math for the year on our benchmark tests and he had perfect attendance for third trimester.
No amount of word smithing here can adequately capture the pride that beamed out from his smile.
Were the breakfast bars the only reason he was successful? Of course not. He put in the hard work, along with his other teachers, an interventionist, his mom, and me. There were so many factors throughout the school day that helped him turn the year around, but it was the snack bars that got him to school in the first place.
What This Taught Me
Revanche’s story is important. Essential, really. Too often, we fall prey to the excuse that giving doesn’t matter. Or that it’s fine to give your time instead. Neither of those is the full truth.
Giving does matter, and so does volunteering. But volunteering wasn’t going to get this kid breakfast. Sometimes, the thing that matters is getting the right resources to the right person.
And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. We don’t have to give on the scale of the Gates Foundation to have an impact. This is not to minimize what Revanche did; it’s to challenge all of us–myself included!–to be more like her.
Kindness Keeps Going
This school year was hard for reasons that I can’t fully articulate. It seemed that every difficult aspect of teaching that I had ever encountered in my career came swirling back simultaneously this year. In this confluence of challenges, I felt like quitting. ALL. THE. TIME.
Even though I love my job. Even though I’ve begged for teachers to not leave. I wanted to leave over and over again this year.
These two acts of kindness, though, inspired me to change the way I look at giving. They also pushed me forward and reminded me to keep going. Support systems aren’t something you have to be physically present to find. Two of my Internet heroes found really unexpected ways to tell me that they thought I should keep going, so I did.
So Tell Me…Have you ever received a gesture like this? What’s your favorite “just because” gesture to make?