Teaming up with the respected non-profit, Youth Community Service, Megan first solicited ideas from JLS students.
Next, she organized teams of parents and students to help six non-profit groups around Palo Alto, all on Wednesday, a school holiday.
Thanks to this community-wide effort, some kids spent this Veterans Day mulching the trees around the JLS campus by Mitchell Park, in partnership with Canopy.
Other middle schoolers read stories to pre-school children at a local child care center, in service to Palo Alto Community Child Care.
Still others helped Innvision volunteers stock shelves at the Food Closet downtown at All Saints Episcopal Church.
Another JLS team went to Abilities United to build raised garden beds — and finished the job in one morning!
And dozens of other students, siblings and parents gathered at Stevenson House, a non-profit retirement home near Mitchell Park for low-income seniors. Students interviewed elderly residents to learn about their lives.
JLS sixth-grade teacher Shauna Rockson, who had the day off from teaching, decided to join in on this day of giving — and learning.
"The students are now going to write up these incredible oral histories, really first-person narrative histories," Rockson said. "We will share them with the residents of Stevenson House and with the wider JLS community. s
"This was really historic; to see so many kids helping and giving in so many ways. This service day was really something everyone needs to know about," Rockson said.
I volunteered with another mom, Erina Dubois, to take a group to the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. Our plan was to have the kids deliver some generic gifts to veterans at the Spinal Cord Injury unit.
But the week before Veterans Day, VA Recreational Therapist Tom McCarthy told us that because of the H1N1 virus threat, it would not be possible for any kids under 16 to go to the bedsides of the hospitalized vets. Because of this reasonable health concern, we decided to meet with the veterans one-by-one, to find out what gifts they would really like on Veterans Day. We figured while we couldn't promise them a free trip to Paris, or a new car, at least our students could bring them what they really wanted.
Tom kindly gave Erina and me permission to visit each patient. Some of them were paralyzed from the waist down, others from the neck down. Some of them received their injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan. Others became paralyzed from car accidents or calamitous falls during their civilian lives.
"What would you most like for Veterans Day?" we asked.
One veteran said he would love some pecan pie. Another asked for three crispy tacos from Taco Bell.
Tom Parks, a vet who has lived in a bed on the Spinal Cord unit for four years now, paralyzed from the neck down from a car accident, said he'd love some fried scallops. Another vet said he could really use a reliable ball-point pen. Another veteran, partially paralyzed and legally blind from multiple sclerosis, said he would really enjoy some scuba-diving magazines. He told us that before MS damaged his optic nerve he used to go scuba diving. He said he still dives with a non-profit group that helps disabled divers.
"What I see looks like an impressionistic painting," he said. "So if you can find a diving magazine with big, colorful pictures, that would be great." Another wonderful veteran, Floyd, said he could really go for vanilla malt.
Loaded with this specific wish list, we went to local businesses for help; the generosity of our business community was unmatched. Even with the on-going struggling economy each and every wish was granted, thanks to Borders Books, Bell's Book Store, Accent Arts, University Art, Palo Alto Toy and Sport, Kepler's, the Book Rack in Menlo Park, the Fish Market, Nature's Alley, Culture Organic Frozen Yogurt, Village Stationers, Congdon & Crome, Know Knew Books, Piazza Food, Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream, Books Inc., and the Palo Alto Creamery.
It is amazing how small gifts, given with love, can mean so much. It is also amazing how the act of giving can, in fact, be the greatest gift of all, for the person lucky enough to get to do the giving.
When we first asked hospitalized veteran Mark Yoder what he really wanted, he started to choke up with deep-felt emotion.
"If you could help me, what I'd like a disposable camera. My daughter is coming here at 6 p,m. tonight from Reno, with her 1-year old daughter. I've never met my granddaughter before. I've had so many surgeries this past year, I never thought I would live to see this day. I never thought I'd get to meet my granddaughter. I'll give you some money, if you wouldn't mind getting me a disposable camera."
Though it was still a few days before Veterans Day, we decided Mr. Yoder needed his gift delivered early. One hour later, Mr. Yoder had two disposable cameras, plus two stuffed animals so he could give a gift to his granddaughter. The Nature's Alley florist even contributed a beautifully-wrapped pink rose, so Mr. Yoder would have special gift to give his daughter.
"We cried a half-hour," Mr. Yoder told us on Wednesday. "My daughter is saving the rose petals. Thank you so much. I will never forget you."
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