Making a Difference

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When I graduated from college, many moons ago, my father's gift to me was a plaque that I have kept with me ever since, moving it from job to job and desk to desk:

"Success is making a difference in the lives of others. Happiness is watching them grow because of it. Make a Difference!"

This weekend, I got to see this in action, as law enforcement officials from the Thayer Police Department, Missouri State Police, Oregon County Sheriff's Office, Missouri Conservation Department, 37th Juvenile Division, Oregon County Ambulance and the Thayer Police Department Chaplain all joined together to make a difference in the lives of 66 young people from across Oregon County.

The Shop with a Cop program raises funds through fundraisers and generous donations from area businesses and residents throughout the year, in order to bring a little Christmas cheer to disadvantaged youngsters. This year, the Mammoth Spring/Thayer Holiday Tour of Homes donated half of their ticket sales to the program. In all, the children were each given around $70 to spend.

"Each child is assigned to an officer and they get to go shopping in Walmart to choose whatever they want," said Thayer Police Chief David Bailey. "They often will choose gifts for their siblings and parents, as well as for themselves."

Jason Greer, the manager of the Thayer Walmart where the program took place, said it's not just the kids who have a good time. "Take a look at these guys -- they're having as much fun as the kids are."

That's probably what struck me the most -- the smiles and excitement on the officers' faces as they gathered before the start of the program in the back area of the store. Here were men and women who put their lives on the line for us everyday and they were devoting time away from their own families to give these children the chance to take home a brand new toy or a new pair of shoes or a brand new winter coat.

Watching as the children's eyes lit up as they found that perfect item: the little girl who happily picked out a fairy princess dress complete with sparkly tiara; the young boy who watched as the officer lowered a bike to the floor for him, and the look of absolute jubilation as he sat on that bike and knew it was going to go home with him; the brothers who each picked matching action figures.

It was heartening to see the community come together to donate the funds in conjunction with these officers donating their time, all to make these special christmas memories for the children.

It's a reminder for all of us, that the smallest acts of kindness can make the biggest impact on someone's happiness.

"When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people."

-- Abraham Joshua Heschel

The sad part is that all too often, only the Christmas season is seen as a "season of giving," when there are so many of our friends and neighbors who coud use that small act of kindess all year round.

Local family service offices are always glad to accept donations; the animals housed at area animal shelters are in need of blankets, food and toys year round; the battered women's shelter can benefit from donations of food, clothes and tolietries; local nursing homes are appreciative of the donations of time and skills to assist with crafts and projects for our area seniors -- there are endless possibilities to make a difference in your community.

In the past few months, I have had the priviledge to spend time with our area senior citizens - to play with them, laugh with them and cry with them.

They have been my teachers and my friends. From them, I have learned so very much in such a short period of time, but the most important lesson of all has been the simplest - kindness. For when you give kindness, you receive kindness. The giving is a gift as much as the getting.

And it can be so simple a thing, kindness. A gentle hand, an assistance down a hallway, someone to listen as you tell a story or someone to empathize as you cry over a memory.

Allow the gift of kindness to intrude upon your busy lives - let it come into your heart and bless your spirit.

For kindness is an amazing gift of the spirit and of the heart - one that we all possess and can all share, if we choose to do so.

Make the Choice and Make a Difference.

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

-- Aesop