Giving back can make a huge impact
March 27, 2021
My husband, Terry Brady, and I moved to Tehachapi in 2006. In 2008 we met Rene Champagne who had been a teacher at Wayside Elementary in Bakersfield for the previous 20 years. It turns out she was teaching not only at my elementary school but actually in my 5th grade classroom. Rene invited us to visit her and her students at my old classroom whenever we would like. We did just that and became acquainted with her students. I told the students I had been in that classroom when I was their age, and they were amazed that I had come back to visit (or that I was still alive after all of these years!). I related stories of what it was like to be in that school in the early 1950s and Terry told them stories of growing up and attending school in Australia. They had many questions for him. He taught them some Aussie slang words, G'Day Mate, HooRoo, among others, and told them jokes.
We also taught them a mantra which we continue to use each year:
"When I look in the mirror, what do I see, an intelligent mind looking back at me."
Following that initial visit, we asked Rene what we could provide for the students, this being a low socio-economic region of Bakersfield. Should we bring something for the classroom, or something for each individual child. Her response was "Oh, bring them something individually; they never receive presents."
We returned for another visit with bags of school supplies which were well received, and began gathering items to make up a nice Christmas bag for each student. We told our friends, and even people we didn't know, about our project and were rewarded with donations of socks, gloves, scarves, toys, candy, McDonald's gift certificates, Baskin Robbins gift cards, many items a 10-year-old would like. One friend said to a group at a restaurant one night, "Watch out for Rhonda; she is going to ask for something for her kids". Which I did. That first Christmas those kids were thrilled at their Christmas bags full of gifts for them. One girl removed every item from her bag, very methodically, looked them over carefully, and placed them all back in the bag. She remarked that this was going to be her only Christmas gift that year.
We had donations of white socks for the girls, and black socks for the boys. One boy came to me with his socks in his hand asking if he could change his socks. I told him I didn't have any other socks, and did he not like the black ones. He replied "No, I want to change my socks", meaning take off the ones he had on and put on the new ones. He walked away saying, "I'll ask Ms. Champagne."
Rene Champagne retired a number of years ago. Mrs. Gregory is now the third teacher we have visited in this classroom. We have continued this tradition over the years, which now stretches into more than 10 years.
One year I decided we needed yoyos for the students' last visit of the year so they could play with them over the summer. I contacted Duncan Yoyo Company, as I wanted well-made yoyos for them. Duncan advised me to contact Flambeau Distributors, which I did. I did not hear back from Flambeau, but one morning Terry stepped out the front door to find a box with 30 yoyos in it. No letter. No explanation. Just a box of yoyos from Flambeau. We also made sure to have a bag of marbles for each boy.
One year I invited then-mayor Harvey Hall to visit the classroom and when he asked what he could bring as gifts, I told him Duncan yoyos and dental hygiene products. He turned up with a gift bag for each student with those two items inside all tied up in a bow. He spent a couple of hours there discussing whatever the students wanted to ask him. No press. No photos. No PR person, just a very kind, patient, caring man.
My sister Sandra lives in Elkton, Kentucky, and crochets stocking caps for the students every year. I will receive a box in the mail from her and there will be 30 or more multi-colored beautiful stocking caps lovingly crocheted by my sister for these students she has never met. Her crocheting and knitting friends have started helping her a bit in the past couple of years. They want to help out on this project as well.
A few years ago I wanted to sew large Christmas stockings. I posted online the need for Christmas fabric and was rewarded by several people providing beautiful Christmas fabric, or actually sewing the stockings for me. One woman, with the help of her friends, made 30 stockings using her own fabric and time.
One year a friend in Tehachapi asked if I could use some Beanie Babies for the students.
She donated more than 40 she had collected over the years. In their gift bags that year there were crocheted neck scarves from my sister as well as the caps. The students wrapped those Beanie Babies in the scarves as if they were precious babies to be cradled and cared for. The teacher that year told us those Beanie Babies continued to come to school with those students for many days.
One boy came to me and told me he had received two McDonald's gift certificates in his Christmas card when the other students had received only one. I said he was very lucky.
He took that gift card, made a Christmas card at his desk to go with it, and gave it to his teacher.
We visit the classroom five times during the school year. We do an initial visit at the beginning of the school year, with as many needed school supplies as possible. Last year a very generous person in Tehachapi provided a backpack for each student, which we loaded with school items and Mrs. Gregory distributed them to her new class prior to school starting. On the first visit we take a class picture of all the students together and have a t-shirt made with that photo on it for each student's Christmas bag. That is a gift they absolutely LOVE. We have a Halloween party, a Valentine's Day party and the end of the year party, always bringing snacks and drinks, as well as bead necklaces from the Dollar Store, telling them, "You can't have a party without a necklace."
Terry was a chiropractor here in Tehachapi for the past 12 years, and his patients loved to donate to this project, even paying for the requested Christmas gifts on the students' lists. Unfortunately for all of us, Terry passed away on December 28, 2019, but the tradition will continue. This past Christmas our good friend Cathy delivered the Christmas bags to the classroom, and my son attended the Valentine's Day party with me.
On the last visit each year we will bring a number of books for each student to keep as their own. During the year we shop thrift stores, rummage sales, garage sales, looking for books in good condition for the appropriate age group. We tie up six or eight books for each student with a ribbon. I was asked to speak about this at a ladies group at the Lutheran Church. For my time I received many school supplies, books, and gifts for the students. Even 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner's office has become involved by providing a Certificate of Accomplishment to each student with a presentation being given by his assistant.
It has been a pleasure to do this project over the years, bringing much happiness and joy to not only the students and the school, but to Terry and me, as well. We never knew what impact we were having on these students, but have heard various stories over the years.
The students going into the 5th grade always request being in "Mrs. Gregory's class because that classroom has the Bradys." Also, on one visit there were several students visiting the school who were in 8th grade at the middle school and had come to distribute books to the lower level classes. These students had done a fundraiser, making over $1,000 and purchased books for Wayside. They had been in Mrs. Gregory's class previously, and when she asked them what gave them the idea of doing this, they told her it was because of the Bradys.
Giving back. Making an impact.
If anyone who reads this would like to donate to this project, please contact Rhonda Brady at (661) 821-2846. Feel free to copy this example if you are so moved to help out in a local school.