In Your Corner, February 22, 2017
All the staff at Hale `Opio Kaua’i and the youth who have been inspired by Annaleah Atkinson’s column In Your Corner would like to thank her for her many years of heartfelt kindness, spiritual scholarship and dedication to the organization. She has been a devoted and generous member of the Hale `Opio community and we will all miss her.
Many years ago, Annaleah trained me to take over her job as Teen Court Manager. In addition to teaching me the daily scheduling, interviewing and particulars of the program, she also focused on the concept of “Paying It Forward.” Over the years I have seen how Annaleah has lived this philosophy and how Kaua’i is a better place for it.
According to Wikipedia, “pay it forward” was a movement used as a “key plot element” in a prizewinning play dating back to 317 BC. In The American Heritage Idioms Dictionary the expression ‘one good deed deserves another’ was coined around 1400 AD. In 2000, the movie Pay It Forward, based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, popularized this idea, and today it can be summed up loosely as the “random act of kindness” movement: instead of paying back a past debt, you pay it forward to another person. Or, taken further, and as we all learned in grade school, The Golden Rule.
A 7th grade student learning about social responsibility put it perfectly: “Paying it forward is the best kind of chain reaction! It accumulates and you never know where the influence ends.” This young student understood the impact that this type of thinking could have on making the world a better place.
So how do we begin to instill this concept in our young citizens? Community service is an obvious example of this. At Teen Court, almost every child who participates in the program receives some community service as part of their requirement to complete the program. Having been given the opportunity to have their first time misdemeanor or status offense referred to Teen Court and avoid Family Court, the youth is asked to go out into the community to perform some type of service. Public libraries, neighborhood community centers, non-profit institutions, public schools and religious institutions all benefit from their help. We know this because the feedback we receive from these institutions has been glowing: “hardworking,” “very helpful,” “took duties seriously,” “a pleasure to work with.”
Sharing this information with the child can be transforming. Their experience with community service and helping others has led them to continued volunteering, experiences they never thought possible, job offers, and feelings of tremendous self-worth. Many of the children who attend Teen Court rarely receive praise or thanks for who they are. They are often at a loss as to how to help themselves much less help others. Having somewhere safe to go that depends on them, enjoys and employs them and thanks them cannot be trivialized. Schools are overcrowded, parents are working two jobs, so many of us are too busy to notice the at-risk kids who fall through the cracks until they’ve committed some offense that brings them to someone’s attention. And when these youth are in the spotlight, it often results in their internalizing negative feelings about themselves.
Ask anyone who has helped someone, who has no stake in the activity or interest in the outcome how they feel after they have helped someone. It feels good. For many, this feeling encourages them to continue this activity. The recipient of this kindness may feel gratitude and this gratitude may transform into action and performing an act of kindness for another. The 7th grader understood this: “Paying it forward is the best kind of chain reaction! It accumulates and you never know where the influence ends.”
Kaua’i is a small community. A little generosity goes a long way here. Teen Court would not be able to
function without a cadre of volunteers: judges, lawyers, parents, youth and friends. Most adults I know on Kaua’i have a very active volunteer life. When asked about why this is important to them, the answer is often that they learned it from their parents. By example or with encouragement it is a lesson instilled in them early and continues throughout their adult life.
Every child on Kaua’i should be given the opportunity to help others and do something meaningful. Many schools across the United States and schools here on Kaua’i have community service programs. Non-profits, government agencies and religious institutions routinely welcome volunteers and have robust and exciting community service opportunities. As Howard Zinn wrote, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” They also transform ourselves. Thank you, Annaleah.
Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.