I’m starting with Jenny Wolicki because she is the reason I began to notice all the good and selfless things that young people do.
I’m used to adults volunteering and fundraising and racing for the cure and feeding the hungry and riding their bikes for some one or some cause. Almost everyone I know walks, runs, washes cars, crochets, knits, serves meals. Plus, there are the social events — cocktail parties, dinners, golf tournaments, bowling — barn raisers, every one, building hope and funds to cure people with ALS, Alzheimer’s, cancer, neuroblastoma, cystic fibrosis. People helping people. This is what we do.
But kids? You know, the ones called pampered and over indulged and self-absorbed?
This is what they do, too.
Jenny Wolicki was my granddaughter Lucy’s reading buddy, back when Lucy was 7 and Jenny was 10. A reading buddy is an older kid who helps a younger one. The school paired them. Lucy didn’t know Jenny, none of us did, and Jenny didn’t know us. Yet she worked with Lucy at least once a week. She read to her, helped her sound out words, and listened as Lucy read. And Lucy learned. And then the school year ended. And Jenny went on to middle school.
And we thought, well that’s that.
But Jenny didn’t forget about Lucy. When it came time for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Buddy Walk in October, Jenny signed up not only to go to the walk, but also to raise money. This little sixth-grader brought in more than $500, earning her the title of “All Star.” The next year, and all the years since, she has done the same. She shrugs off praise. She’s just one of many All Star fundraisers, she says. And she is right. Which is the point.
She is one of many.
This is what’s striking about young people today. They are involved. They volunteer. They are active, productive participants in their communities.
When I was a kid during summer vacation, my best friend Rosemary and I held talent shows in my backyard. We chose the songs and dance routines and taught them to anyone in the neighborhood who wanted to be in our show. And then we charged their parents to come and watch them perform.
We didn’t charge much. But what we made, we kept. I always spent my share of the earnings on Little Lulu comic books. It never occurred to me to give to the Jimmy Fund or March of Dimes.
The Dawe kids from Quincy — Ben, 13, Abby, 11, and Elizabeth, 9 — cart around a lemonade stand to soccer and football games all spring and fall, then donate every penny they make to Boston Children’s Hospital. And they’ve been doing this for seven years. They have a social conscience.
The Connelly kids from Canton — Jake, 18, and Maggie, 17 — are involved in the Best Buddies program at Canton High, volunteer at St. Gerard’s Kids Camp and at Father Bill’s place. Maggie reads to kids, feeds the homeless, has been to South Carolina to help people; Jake was part of a team that traveled to Detroit to help repair flooded houses. And they are teenagers!
Every March, boys and girls at Medfield High host the Miss Amazing pageant. It’s a day where girls with disabilities from all over New England get to shine solely because these ordinary kids volunteer their time and their talents. Amazing is the perfect word for these young people.
Last Monday, I dropped off Lucy at Camp Arrowhead in Natick. It’s a day camp for children with special needs, run by volunteers. Her one-to-one, a girl named Steph, who would be with her every day for a week, walked right over to introduce herself. She could be home sleeping, I thought. She could be with her friends at the beach. She could be doing anything she wants.
But here she is.
I watched her bend down and take Lucy’s hand. I watched her smile widen. “Hi. My name is Steph,” she said, and I watched Lucy smile back. And then I watched the two of them walk away, still holding hands.
My grandson Adam volunteered last week at Kids Camp. He’s 14, finally old enough to be a junior counselor. There were meetings he had to attend. Protocol he had to learn. Then there was the week of actual work and responsibility.
He chose to do this. All these young people, helping, volunteering, giving their time. They choose to do these things. It’s something to witness. And to celebrate.Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.