Do you remember that book called Everything I know I leaned in Kindergarten? I was thinking about that book title the other day after interviewing one of our guests for the podcast. I was asking our guest about growing up with role models that gave back. It is always fascinating to discover people’s earliest acts of kindness. Who they modeled? Where they learned the importance of helping others.
As the interview ended, I found myself trying to answer the question myself. What were my earliest memories of charity? Actually, it is one of my most vivid early memories. So I thought I would share it here. Let me set the scene first. The year is 1971, I’m five years old and in Mrs. Thompson’s kindergarten class.
Mrs. Thompson, who might have been 100 at the time was the sweetest kindest woman. She asked all of our class to bring in pennies for the poor. I know poor is no longer politically correct but it was the seventies. I vividly remember going home and emptying my own piggy bank and cramming a handful of pennies into my chubby hands. Something about this made me so happy.
The next morning Mrs. Thompson asked the class of twenty who had brought in pennies. I raised my hand along with five other students and she called us all up to the front of the class and gave us a sucker for every penny we brought in. It was amazing. I felt so excited to be getting rewarded but still didn’t understand why we received lollipops. Mrs. Thompson didn’t say anything else but thanked us for caring for others. I remember feeling very proud and excited about the bonus of candy.
The next day the remaining students brought in way more pennies than the six of us had the day before. A boy in my class asked Mrs. Thompson when they were getting their suckers for all their pennies. Mrs. Thompson very calmly explained, “The first group of students brought in their pennies because they wanted to help poor children and they didn’t expect anything in return. They just wanted to help the poor. Those students didn’t know about the suckers and gave just to give. All of you brought in pennies to get something for yourselves and that isn’t real charity. Charity is when you help someone and expect nothing in return. I want all of you to learn that when you give for no reason, then you are always rewarded.”
I remember a few of the boys saying that wasn’t fair. To be honest, I’m not sure that I really understood exactly what Mrs. Thompson meant. What I did know is that I felt really proud to give my pennies and really excited to get a bunch of candy I didn’t expect. Somehow knew this was a feeling I wanted again. Mrs. Thompson empowered me in a way I had never felt before.
It is amazing that over fifty years later I can remember that moment like it was yesterday. We are all made up of so many moments and life experiences that shape us and set us down certain paths. We never know when once seed that was planted long long ago will sprout and grow. While I’m not a kindergarten teacher, I do have the privilege of working with thousands of students each year and one can only hope that we are all planting many more seeds of giving.
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