Living Generosity At Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep

Posted by Anne Veh on Mar 21, 2013
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On Friday, a group of us from Service Space gave our second workshop on “generosity and service” to the junior class at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco. Fumi, a Religious Studies teacher at SHCP and a regular at Casa de Paz, was inspired after hearing about our first workshop, and invited our Kindness Team to meet with his students. (The first workshop was envisioned for Tam High School in Marin County to offer the freshman class a more meaningful community service experience).

Fumi reflected as a teacher how easy it is to get into the role of delivering information, and he questioned whether he was truly listening to the needs of his students. His students were serious and tended to be over achievers. How would they respond to a workshop on kindness and generosity? Our Kindness Team was blessed with twelve love magicians: Fumi, Pancho, Sam, Anne, Audrey, Maria, Kristina “K”, Mama Nidia (mother of Nidia and Celine), Tia (age 16, junior, San Andreas High School, Marin), Nidia (age 14, freshman, MetWest High School, Oakland), Emily (age 15, freshman,Tam High School, Marin) and Celine (age 7).

At 7am Friday morning, we assemble in Fumi’s classroom, organizing all the chairs in a circle and beautifying a few tables with vases of daffodils, Gerber daisies, baskets of chocolates, homemade banana bread & brownies, granola bars, tangerines, and more. Fumi commented, “It’s amazing to see my classroom transformed with so much love.” We gather in a circle to share a few minutes of receptive silence. We have an outline to follow, but the words shared in that moment were about being flexible, listening to what is needed in the moment, and most of all, to have fun!

At 7:55am, the students arrive and we are ready for them! We line up on both sides of the door and welcome them with hugs, smiles and a handshake. Our C.K.O. (Chief Kindness Officer) Celine hands a chocolate to each student with a radiant smile! Each student returns a warm and bemused smile (perhaps thinking what are we in for?). Fumi introduces us and we all share our names and gratitude for the opportunity to explore generosity and service together.

Nidia begins the workshop by boldly inviting the students to form a circle to engage in an “ice breaker” activity called “Baby, I love you won’t you give me a smile?” She explains, “The goal of the game is to approach someone you don’t know well and say, Baby, I love you, won’t you give me a smile?” The fellow student is supposed to respond, “Baby, I love you too, but I can’t give you a smile.” If the student laughs, they enter the circle and begin the game over. If the student holds their ground and doesn’t smile, the same student must approach another student until they make someone laugh. Everyone really got into it, and there were a lot of laughs. It was a way for all of us to bond and loosen up. What was interesting was what happened between two people when a person didn’t smile. The student who initiated would often step back, and even collapse a bit. When a student approached Sam, he gave it his best effort not to smile. Afterwards, he reflected to the group, “I felt just awful. Yuck! It was so hard for me not to smile. I really wanted to make this person happy, but I was following the rules.” This opened up a beautiful opportunity to discuss what it takes to make someone smile? Some of the student responses shared: “You have to be genuine”, “You need to use humor,” “Exaggerate with body language.” One male student approached a friend, getting so close it appeared he was going to kiss him. Everyone erupted in laughs.

We then showed the “Kindness Boomerang” video and the “Free Hugs” video, exploring the simplicity of random acts of kindness and shared stories about the inner transformation that occurs when you step out of your comfort zone to do something kind for others. Tia led the “group sharing” by telling the students about a recent random act of kindness. Just last week, she explained, she and a friend saw an elderly man with two bags of groceries and a milk crate waiting to cross the street. Even though she was scared and really nervous, she went ahead and asked the gentleman if she could help him with his groceries. He responded with a smile, “You are so sweet.” She walked him home and learned that his name was Bob, he was 82 years old, and he was about to celebrate his 83rd birthday next month. He had lived in the same home for 27 years. In the moment, Tia stepped it up for all of us and announced, “I am going to leave something on his doorstep one day each week, as I don't know when his actual birthday is.” We all were blown away by her spontaneous and heart warming gesture.

Tia then asked the students to find a partner to reflect and share a kind act that they have done for someone or someone has done for them within the last week. Some of the student sharing included helping a friend with homework, giving a ride to a teammate they didn’t know well, appreciating a mother for a ride to school. Just as Tia was about to complete, she called on one last student. He was shy and sat in the back of the room. Very quietly, he began to tell us how he found a homeless man, who appeared injured, on his way home from school. He approached the man only to learn he had just crossed the border (illegally) and was in need of medical attention. He brought the man to a shelter and handled all the interpretation, ensuring he was properly cared for. In that moment, we were all speechless. Pancho thanked the student for sharing this beautiful story and announced that he too was “undocumented.” It was a powerful and moving moment when Pancho shared how not long ago, many of us could not be in the same room because of our skin color. He referenced the Earth flag and spoke of our shared rights and freedoms as citizens of this “light blue beautiful planet.” The students were riveted by Pancho’s presence; he embodied a warrior, being willing to take a stand and show great courage in speaking his truth. The energy between all of us in the room was incredible. We, as team members, recognized our responsibility, to stand in our truth with great love, and we vowed to step it up for the successive sessions.

Throughout the workshops, Audrey shares, “I kept noticing just how naturally the students took to the stories of small acts of kindness and everyday generosity. I think part of it was the balance of practice, with theory and reflection. When we invited everyone to share in groups about our own experiences with small acts of kindness, the air of the classroom filled with the buzz of stories and drawing up of memories.”

Emily, Tia and Nidia spoke candidly with the students, sharing what a contrasting environment they experienced in their respective schools. What they saw at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep was a close-knit community of kind students who genuinely cared for each other. At the Tam High workshop, students spoke of an atmosphere of stealing, meanness, and bullying. Tia further explained, “At my school, the kids are all ‘ghetto.’ They aren’t kind and they lack respect. Here, I feel safe and happy. You are so lucky!” Nidia agreed with Tia and shared how difficult it was to connect to her fellow students. “It just doesn't happen,” she reflected. At the end of our session, we offered free hugs! For homework, Fumi instructed each student to act on their individual “smile card” that they pulled from the deck, and to hug at least one team member.

After the students left, we gathered in a circle and reflected on what was “the thorn” and “the rose” from our experiences.

A few of the thorns included:
1) Most of the students participating were girls. Fumi suggested we call on the boys, as we always provide time for reflection and are not putting them on the spot.
2) We all agreed we needed more time at the end to personally connect with the students, especially after delivering the powerful story of “Julio Diaz” and sharing “The Power of One” video.

A few of the roses included:
1) The student members of our team rocked! When they spoke, the students were focused, attentive, and responsive. Powerful stuff!

2) The student body was very loving and respectful. We were all touched by the warmth and sincerity of the community.

After our second session, Fumi had the brilliant idea of pairing up our young team members with some of his students to “tag” fellow students during their break in the open plaza with flowers, gifting homemade brownies, granola bars and chocolates, placing vases of flowers in the bathrooms, and even decorating lockers with hand written love notes! Seeing Emily, Tia, Nidia and Celine engage so lovingly and comfortable with the students made us all stand back in awe! They were laughing, smiling and deeply connecting while conspiring to step up the kindness. Kristina “K” took the opportunity to run home (just a few blocks away) to gather her instruments: a French horn, a guitar and a Melodica. In the center of the plaza, K began to play her French horn and was soon joined by Celine playing the Melodica. Soon, a Sacred Heart student picks up the guitar to join in the fun! It was magical! And very quietly, Mama Nidia strolled around the plaza to find a quiet soul, and hand him/her a flower and loving smile.

Audrey reflects, “When I went to the bathroom right before lunch, I saw a student from our first class hand his classmate a daffodil. :) I walked by another student at his locker in mid-conversation: "I've never really thought that much about kindness before..." And on my way back down the hall, students from our last class were handing out homemade brownies, gifting flowers to passerby, and sticking post-it-notes that read, "Smile!" and "Have a nice day" on people's lockers. There definitely was an infectious energy going around, and I was even more touched, at the end of the day, when we were cleaning up from our last class and a student came in asking, "Can I have more smile cards? And can I take a few more flowers to give out?"

At lunchtime, Maria shared an inspiration to gather at the Free Farm, located just across the street from the school! We toted our lunch and instruments across the way, and sat in communion with the farm, holding hands and offering gratitude for all our blessings. At lunch, I was reflecting what the students at Tam High noticed most from our first workshop. They were astounded that the kindness extended beyond the walls of the classroom into their school and further into the community. In every moment we have an opportunity to be kind. What holds us back? After we finished lunch, Pancho showed the girls around the farm and into the amazing greenhouses. There, we saw all the sprouting seedlings held in the warmth of the greenhouse womb. We’re no different Pancho and I reflect, “We all need love and nurturing.”

After the third and final session, we gathered in a circle for reflection. We all commented how each session had its gifts and challenges. When a challenge presented itself, there was always another team member or student to step in and help. Fumi’s reflection touched us to the core. “Of all the students you presented to today, your team found and connected to the two students that I was most concerned about.” In the third session, a female student sat quietly. Mama Nidia intuitively noticed her sadness and spontaneously wrote a poem and had it translated by Maria (as English is her second language). Maria quietly hands the poem to the girl, and as she quietly reads it, a smile emerges. And the young male student Audrey mentions, who comes back into the room at the end of the day for more daffodils and smile cards, is a student Fumi tells us who has experienced a lot of pain in his life. And then Nidia pops up and shares, I just received a text from one of the students! She wants to learn more and stay connected:)

Audrey offers a beautiful closing quote and reflection, "Pay attention to what you pay attention to." Last Friday, it was an enormous gift to pay attention to the potential of kindness in each student, teacher, volunteer, and child. To see the power of small acts in action-- the lightening of spirit and deepening of presence that comes along with it.

Already, the ripples of generosity are flowing! We leave the day with hearts expanded and gratitude for the opportunity to explore generosity and service together:)

With love and smiles,
The Kindness Team;-)

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Comments (5)

  • Audrey wrote ...

    Thanks for sharing, Anne! Such a bright, thoughtful, and full-of-heart recap of a beautiful day. :)

  • maria wrote ...

    Thank you Anne for sharing with such detail and care. It was a beautiful day and super inspiring to co-create this together! Love and hugs ❤

  • Trishna Shah wrote ...

    Thanks for sharing this Anne, it's so amazing to see how you guys are out there creating ripples of generosity in unexpected places like schools and classrooms, given that these aren't normal things kids learn about in school (even though we'd all love for every child to have the chance to learn about these beautiful things and live them) :) Thanks for leading these beautiful experiments, I look forward to hearing about more as your journey continues...

  • Fumi wrote ...

    I spoke with my classes yesterday and today about another workshop, and the response was overwhelmingly positive! I was struck by how often my students spoke about YOU, as opposed to the activities we did. Your goodness and beauty and kindness really impressed my students more than anything you said or did. Some expressed how they felt so rejuvenated and uplifted afterwards. So thank you thank you thank you!

  • Viral Mehta wrote ...

    +1 to what trishna said!