In This Season of Thanks and Giving

As I busy myself with upcoming preparations, like menu planning and making out a grocery list, and debating if it would be best to shred or slice zucchini for a new recipe I’m going to try out, these mundane thoughts are interrupted by something much more important, wondering what Thanksgiving will be like for some of our 12,000+ kids.

A child so hungry he rummages through a garbage can, snatching and stuffing into his pockets a partially eaten sandwich, a bit of apple. He is worried about his younger sister who isn’t yet school age and wants her to have some food in her belly before the day slips away.

I think of the student who messed up big time on a homework assignment. The class was learning about sequencing and the student couldn’t figure out how to put in proper order the steps for making a bed. It seems a basic thing, something any third grader should be able to do. But, spend some time with this student and it becomes apparent that she is a bright child, one who likes to please and struggles to do her best. However, she does not have a memory of her head ever touching a pillow. She often sleeps on floors and, if lucky, the couches of friends or family. She is one of 2.5 million children (1 in 30) who is homeless in America. It’s hard to figure out the steps to making a bed when you don’t have one, when the only pillow you’ve ever seen is in a book.

And then there’s the sixth grade girl who shows up to school every day wearing shoes that are so badly worn that the soles flap up and down as she walks through the halls. She feels like a clown. Though some of her classmates tease her, one offers up a pair of their own worn, but respectable pair of shoes.

Or what about that high school student who has been missing too much school lately?

These students bring to mind a conversation I recently had with someone. She said that as a child she was thankful for school each and every day. “I didn’t want to leave it. I’d figure out strategies to stay as long as possible. Anything to not go home.” School, she said, was her haven.

For too many children, weekends, holidays, and snow days take away the haven of school, the solace that comes in knowing they will have a breakfast and a lunch, a warm and stable environment that isn’t always a given once the school bell rings at the end of the day.

What will these children—who sleep on floors and worry where their next meal will come from—what will they doing on Thanksgiving? Will they have enough to eat? Anything to eat? Where, on Thanksgiving night will they lay their heads to sleep? Unfortunately, for many children throughout our nation, Thanksgiving is no different from any other day. It will just be what every other 364 days of the year means: survival.

The good news is that in each of the above situations, CIS was able to reach out to these children because of you. We—and those students and their families—are thankful for YOU.  You give out of your abundance— your heart, financial support, resources, and time. These students, and many more, are doing well and able to focus on school because of you.

What are you thankful for? We’ll leave you with just a few things our 12,000+ kids tell us they are thankful for: school, CIS, mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers, teachers, principals, secretaries, the Kalamazoo Promise®, dogs, phones, football, shoes, glasses, clothes, food, presents of any kind, a bed to sleep in, a room of my own so that I can walk into it. Their lists go on. And it includes you.

Note: This post ran three years ago in Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Originally titled “Mis(Thanks)Giving,” it’s back by popular demand.  

Count Thanks, Not Sheep

Kids SunsetWhen you find yourself having trouble falling asleep: count thanks. I tried it the other night and it worked. I drifted off somewhere around 124. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that I awakened the next morning feeling exceptionally refreshed and hopeful. In fact, researchers have found a connection between gratitude and a whole bunch of good stuff, like better health, improved relationships, and dealing with adversity. It helps to recognize that goodness is not just in us but all around us.

Two tips to keep in mind should you try this. One. When counting thanks, don’t critique your thoughts. There is no right or wrong, good or bad counting. When ordinary things like cinnamon flavored toothpicks, small brown stones, and dental floss come to mind, don’t shrink from their common-ness; just embrace it. Two. When you hit the 70 mark, don’t give up. This is when things will start to surprise you. People long forgotten may rise to the surface, like the crossing guard you haven’t seen since you were ten, but with a hello, a smile, and a stop sign, saw you safely across the intersection at Inkster and Westnedge.

Here, in no particular order, are just twelve of the things that I counted in my list of thanks:

1. For this moment.

2. For the Kalamazoo Public Schools that open their doors to all of our children. For the teachers, secretaries, janitors, principals, para-pros, administrators and bus drivers who tend our most precious resources: children.

3. Discovering “Starfish.” A poem by Eleanor Lerman, “Starfish” begins:

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to

the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a

stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have

your eggs, your coffee….

This poem not only spoke to my cruddy knees, it swept me away with the common voice of gratitude. You can read the whole thing here.

4. For that fourth grader who told me she was most thankful for having shelter.

5. For my cruddy knees that help me move through this world.

6. For the children among us who had no Thanksgiving meal.

7. For the big hearted among us, like TJ Duckett and his New World Flood and all the folks at Hands Up Project, who made lovely meals and memories possible for hundreds of children and their families this Thanksgiving.

8. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with sheer joy.

9. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with downcast eyes.

10. For students like Chris Boes whose steadfast pursuit of education brings to mind the quote, “Adversity does not build character. It reveals it.”

11. For partners like Western Michigan University who surround and celebrate students and make us proud to be a part of this community.

12. For efforts to reclaim this season and infuse it with true giving. #GivingTuesday(which is today!) does just that by generating conversations about ways to give more, give smarter, and put personal philanthropy back into the giving season.

Speaking of #GivingTuesday, Kalamazoo Fifth Third Bank branches celebrated by giving a generous donation of Thanksgiving food baskets, winter coats, clothing, and personal care items for our CIS Site Coordinators to distribute from Kids’ Closet.

Are you giving back in ways that matter to you? Have you taken a moment to support the Promise Me Campaign? Encouraged others to do so? What are you thankful for? Start counting