By: Daniella Coen Sophomore Yeshiva High Tech
Rarely in my life have I seen, firsthand, the enormous impact that I can have on someone else’s life and happiness by doing the simplest gestures. On December 25 Yeshiva High Tech organized a Chessed Day on Wednesday, December 25. The student body of our school was split up into four groups. The groups were divided between Garden of Palms Retirement Home where students spent the day doing activities with Senior residents. The kids played ball and word games with the students and R. Becker played a concert on the piano that had students and seniors singing and clapping. At Beth Israel’s feed the homeless event in Hollywood YHT students feed hundreds of homeless families. They pored drinks and interacted with the children. Global Kindness has a huge warehouse downtown Los Angeles filled with items destined for needy people. Our students helped arrange the warehouse and readied items for shipment and processing. As for me, I went to PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) a homeless shelter downtown LA that specializes in teaching skills to the homeless. In previous years, I had gone to PATH with my family to serve holiday meals, so I was more than eager to go again. Additionally, this time, we would have the opportunity to spend the day with the children in the shelter, which I had not done before.
We wanted to make the most of the day so before hand we prepared arts and craft materials that we would assemble with the children of the residents. We also prepared ingredients to cook lunch in the shelters kitchen for all the residents. When we arrived at the shelter we each grabbed a box of food or roll of fabric from the car and took them upstairs to the men’s floor. A group of boys volunteered to cook lunch assist our principal, Rebecca Coen, in the kitchen while the rest of us made our way to the children’s and mothers’ quarters. We spent the first few hours measuring and cutting fabric getting all the arts and crafts material ready for the kids in the shelter to make pillows. Instead of jumping to grab the supplies, the children politely asked if there was anything that they could do to help me. So, with a heart bursting with emotion, I, along with my fellow students, spent the next few hours laughing, dancing to music, and getting to know these kids. We played Christmas trivia games with the families and gave out fuzzy socks, candy necklaces, and stickers for prizes. I talked to a little ten-year-old girl named Tiffany, and the two of us immediately bonded. We gossiped and talked about school, and our hobbies; we played games; and we read stories together.
When it came time to make the highly anticipated art project, the kids asked if they could make their pillows for their moms instead, because they were so worried that their mothers would miss out on getting new pillows. It was truly beautiful. A little girl proudly stated that she was going to make her pillow for her preacher because “he is such a nice man” and she wanted “to thank him” and wanted “to make sure that he gets a nice present for Christmas.” I was like…”wow”. That took me a while to digest. I had no words. Here, this girl was living in a tiny room crammed with all of her belongings, sleeping in a bunk bed with her mother. Here was a girl who didn’t know what it was like to grab a friend and spend a day buying clothes at the mall. Here was a child who didn’t know the relief of coming home from a long day of school to a house with a tail-wagging dog, two parents, and the constant buzz of siblings. And yet, her initial thought was to give something of hers, to a man who probably went on a relaxing vacation with his wife and children for the holidays.
While I was sitting with my new friend Tiffany, helping her make her pillow, she stopped, looked up at me, and exclaimed, “I love you. This is the best Christmas I have EVER had in my life.” I was crying with joy inside and my heart just melted right there in my chest. I didn’t even feel like we had done so much for them! If anything, I felt like we ought to have been doing more. But, I realized from these two simple sentences uttered by a small homeless girl that even the smallest acts of kindness reach farther than we can possibly imagine. I have dug a place into Tiffany’s heart, and she a place in mine, that I don’t think will ever change, and I certainly did not expect to have this sort of lasting impact on someone. One day, when she finds her place in the world and makes a name for herself, I hope that she will remember the day that we shared together and the special way that our kindness made her feel wanted. I hope that she will pass on the same flame of compassion to another person in need of its light.
Also, I had the rare opportunity to sit down and speak with a man and hear the unbelievable story of how he came to reside in a shelter for the homeless. He had been an extremely successful nurse practitioner and physician’s assistant, earning between four hundred and five hundred thousand dollars a year. He had a magnificent mansion with fourteen rooms and multiple servants. However, his life plummeted when he got sick and had suffered multiple blood clots in his head, and then was hit by a bus – only increasing the damage to his brain. Having lost the ability to work he was finally afforded the opportunity to undergo surgery that would partially restore his abilities The doctor called his sister who was the only eligible person available to sign consent papers allowing him to undergo the surgery.
Answering the doctor’s call, his sister told him not to call her again unless her brother was dead. She also told the physician that she would not contribute any money from the family fund (which was significantly large, as he comes from a long line of oral surgeons). Homeless for more than a year now, he is struggling through the process of collecting some money that was lost in the transition of selling his large home. He hopes, however, to move into a small apartment and begin building his life again.
Through all of his trials, challenges, and hardships, this man remains strong and optimistic. He has not given up on his loved ones, and he holds steadfast to the dream of a better life. He taught me that things can change in less than a heartbeat and when we least expect it. So live a life of gratitude and kindness. Live happily and never take anything for granted. When life knocks you down, don’t just get up. Jump up and pull somebody else up with you. I will surely think twice about the life I am and plan on leading.