Yesterday I had the rare privelege of sharing one of those eye-opening, light-bulb-flashing opportunities with the Penny Harvest students from Ellis Elementary. I joined the Penny Harvest crew and their coach Stefani Sullivan at the Denver Voice vendor office downtown where the kids suited up to sell papers. Kristin Pazulski, Development Director and Assistant Editor, gave a short orientation on the rules of vending with the help of Vendor's Dionne Gilbert and Brian Augustine before we headed down to the 16th Street Mall for some real, hands-on expereience. - See The Denver Voice Blog here.
The kids were so excited. With each volunteer armed with 10 free papers and smiles as bright as their vests, they were certain they would sell out long before our hour was up on the mall. They were were especially encouraged that they sold 3 papers before we even got to the 16th Street Mall! Once on the mall though, the learning opportunities started walking briskly by. The 2 courageous girls in my group saw first hand how quickly they became invisible, and how unaproachable people become when you stand back and watch them passing by instead of walking alongside them. A couple women bought a paper, and one more gave the girls 2 dollars without taking a paper as she'd already bought one earlier! These bright spots were exactly what the girls needed to keep their spirits up, though any passerby that cared to look would have still seen bright smiles. Miss Lilly, the Ellis Para helping out, and I knew that the girls were struggling because they'd tell us, "this is so hard!" We talked a little bit about their experience in between passersby, and what the money they had now - $2 - would get them if they were homeless. Not much. With 15 minutes left, they'd only sold 2 papers, and we set a goal - let's sell one more in the next 15 minutes! Easier said than done, though that good samaritan that gave money without taking a paper came through for the girls at the very last second, ending their experience on a high note.
Even though these kids had energy oozing out of every pore, contagious smiles, great attitudes and red vests you couldn't miss, the large majority of the people walking by acted like they weren't even there.
I was able to take full advantage of more learning opportunities as I walked back to the office with Dionne. She had a lot of amazing insights and perspectives, but one of the things I found most amazing is her perspective on vending. While the money she makes is necessary for her living, she said she actually prefers a smile or a greeting. After watching the girls in action today, this sentiment really struck home. We were out there for only an hour but I'm sure their confidence took a beating. So many people made themselves very unapproachable, or didn't respond at all when asked, acting like these 5th grade girls were pests. We could tell that those that at least said 'no thank you', or smiled at them had a much more positive effect than all the others that the kids classified as 'mean.'
A smile or simple greeting doesn't cost anything, nor does it commit us to giving anything we don't want to. It does, however, acknowledge the presence of another human being which is the simplest and easiest gift you can give to anyone.
Congratulations to the amazing kids from Ellis Elementary, who not only gave Denver voice a check for $300 from their Penny Harvest money, but also turned over the $57 they earned selling papers on the Mall that day!
For most of us, this is a full day of service, and with our good deeds done we head home for lunch. Not these kids! They went right on over to the Denver Ronald McDonald House where Vicki Walker, Director of Development, accepted their Penny Harvest check for $300 and gave us a tour. After the kids ate lunch, they helped out with some chores around the house. What amazed me was that A: their energy hadn't waned a bit since 9:00 am that morning, and B: they were asking, "when do we get to clean?" How many times have you heard a kid ask to clean?
What an amazing and compassionate group of kids, with their positive role models, Stefani Sullivan, Miss Tavey and Miss Lilly! And thank you all for letting me be a part of your amazing day!