Not too long ago I was a guest speaker for a very intimidating group. I've spoken to groups as large as 700 people before and done radio shows broadcast to thousands without much trouble, but this particular group made me feel like I was back in third grade giving my first oral report. I entered the building, putting one foot in front of the other as if I was heading to a prison cell to serve out a very long sentence. Finally I arrived at my destination. Seventy sets of eyes were cast on me. These eyes belonged to sixth-graders.
I had come to their school to talk to them about foster children. Their Religion Teacher had read my book, Invisible Kids, and was convinced that everyone could do something to help, even other children. I wasn't entirely sure of this at first, but agreed to come anyway. In the days prior, I wondered what to say to them. Striking a balance between being realistic about the challenges foster children face while not overwhelming my pre-teen audience could be a challenge.
We started by discussing what they would take with them if they had to leave their homes. After some interesting chatter, we easily moved into the topics of living with strangers, how hard that would be and what it would be like to not know day to day what life might bring. We talked about the gifts of kindness and friendship and how important it is to welcome newcomers, because you never know what troubles the person sitting in the desk next to you is facing. Life can be hard sometimes. We get through it by helping each other.
My hour with the kids flew by and as I left the school, I thought maybe I should consider being a teacher when I grow up. I enjoyed them.
Several weeks later a fat envelope arrived from the students. When I opened the package I sat quietly and read each and every letter from all seventy students. "When I get older I think I would like to have a job where I could help kids who need me." "Thank you for telling us about foster children. I didn't know there are so many children who need loving families." "My family has started including foster children in our prayers at night." The comments went on and on.
In a world where there is often more bad news than good, it is good to be reminded that as long as we keep trying, as long as we keep sending out a little good every day, we are bound to have an impact sometime. It is much more pleasant to live this way than to throw our hands up in the air, turn our backs and curse the darkness.
I guess their wise teacher was right. She knew all along that even children can do something to help foster children. Someday, these sixth graders, along with millions of others, will step into their futures and leadership roles. And when they do, how wonderful it would be if we nurtured their hearts to care for the vulnerable, the lost and forgotten.