Candy and bread

Eric - Merion, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 24, 2008

I believe that small acts can make a huge difference. I believe that we don’t know where our actions may lead, so we should always be sensitive to the here and now and open to possibility. I believe this because I have seen how the efforts to help my son have changed hundreds of lives.

As a third grader, Avi needed help. After a terrible year in second grade he needed to re-gain trust in teachers, in students, and in himself. He was isolated socially, his behavior was inappropriate, and he could not spend time in a mainstream classroom.

Fortunately, he did not like candy. Because when another student gave Avi his Valentine’s Day candy, Avi didn’t eat it. He had an idea. What if other students worked to earn his candy? He would be in charge of giving out the rewards at the end of the week. Mrs. Myers was willing. Soon Avi had developed a “store.” He worked harder than ever to achieve his academic goals, his behavior goals, and his social goals. The store brought him into comfortable, controlled interactions with classmates and Avi could look and feel great.

Over the next two years, other teachers joined in. Coming to the store became a reward for their students, as well. Avi learned the names of classmates. He learned to get along. He learned to trust others. He learned to feel good about himself.

On Thanksgiving Day in fifth grade, Avi and his mother served meals at a shelter in Philadelphia. The experience resonated with him. He enjoyed providing food to others. He enjoyed standing behind the counter and serving meals. It was like something he had done before…it was like the store.

So candy turned into charity. Avi began to earn an allowance – two-thirds for charity and one-third for him. He worked hard. He succeeded. And when the allowance wasn’t enough, he organized yard sales and casino nights to raise funds.

Now, three years later, Avi has served over 1000 meals; he has bought clothing for hundreds of needy children; sent two children with cancer to camp for a week; given hundreds of pounds of pet food to a shelter; and donated $1600. Along the way over 50 teachers, family members, neighbors and friends have lent a hand.

There is no “candy store” strategy in the teachers’ manual. It was not written into Avi’s education plan. No one was required to participate. But the teachers were sensitive to here and now, saw possibility, and took small, courageous acts that have made all the difference.

Oh, I almost forgot. Avi has autism – a neurological disorder that impairs his social interactions and is supposed to make him egocentric and unable to understand the needs of others.

I believe that small acts can make a great difference and that we never know where the effects will lead. I believe this because I have seen the candy that nourished one soul become the bread that has nourished many.