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Students focus on giving, compassion in actions

by PETER SMITH The (Louisville) Courier-Journal on March 22, 2013 10:20 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Wearing hairnets and school uniforms, sixth-graders from the West End School brought plastic trays laden with steaming chili, bread and dessert to lunchtime diners at The Lord’s Kitchen in Park Hill.

Many of the adults gathered at the soup kitchen responded with a “thank you” or a nonverbal thumbs-up.

“They’re very polite, and it seems like they enjoy what they do,” Michael Hollins said of the students as he sat for lunch.

Middle-schoolers from the private school for at-risk boys have been making weekly visits to The Lord’s Kitchen from the beginning of the year as a service project — but it’s taken on new meaning in recent weeks.

Like numerous other students, they have been focusing on the concept of compassion as the city gears up for two events this spring — the 2013 Give a Day Mayor’s Week of Service in April and the visit of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, in May.

Organizers also are preparing a booklet called “Checklist for Compassion.” It will include various definitions of compassion, lists compiled from schoolchildren and other residents on how people can act compassionately and a directory of nonprofit organizations, grouped by categories such as care for children, the elderly or animals.

That will enable people who want to volunteer, but aren’t sure where, to find one of their interests, said Gray Henry, a local publisher who is coordinating the project.

Numerous students in the region are taking part. At the West End School, for example, students listed scores of ideas for compassionate acts at home and school. They included taking out the trash, helping siblings with their chores, planting trees, doing things the first time they are asked and helping out kindergartners and pre-kindergarten students at the school.

And in a recent classroom discussion, they even talked about compassionate sports.

“Do you remember one of the basketball examples that we had for compassion?” asked their service-learning teacher, Sarah Steenrod.

“If you’re running up the court and you trip somebody, help them up,” said Isaiah Cargill.

“And what if they’re on the other team?”

“Help them up.”

Steenrod then told the students what she observed at a recent game against another school — when an opposing player tripped, three West End School students were waiting with their hands to help him up.

Henry visited the class late last month, talked about the project and then led the students in some simulated activities in which some students pretended to bully or exclude one of them — and then others rose to the victim’s defense.

“You’re not including him,” Henry told a cluster of boys who were play-acting excluding one of the boys.

“Now, one of you is going to go over and try to include him.”

The plot thickened when the excluded boy still slunk away, saying, “It’s all right, man.”

“Uh, oh,” Henry said to the group. “It’s not all right. What are you going to do now?”

The students then enthusiastically brought the boy into their huddle.

After the class, the students traveled by van for a two-mile trip for their service work at The Lord’s Kitchen.

“We have to raise a generation of children who can get their satisfaction from good deeds,” Henry said.

She praised the students for their work at the soup kitchen, encouraging them to serve up an encouraging word along with the food.

“We serve people who can’t get food,” said student Luke Johnson.

“Wherever they sit, we go and take it to them,” added Sameer Rhodes.

“That’s a kind of compassion, offering friendship to people who don’t have any friends,” Henry said.

“My definition of compassion is showing empathy for someone or something, and then doing something about it,” said student Devon Wade.

The students are “a blessing for us,” said Vance Shelton, who coordinates meals at The Lord’s Kitchen site — located at the City of Hope complex at Standard Avenue and Dixie Highway.

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens said she was glad to support the Checklist project.

“It aligns with our district’s vision of providing opportunities for our students to contribute to our society throughout life,” Hargens said.

The project also dovetails with Louisville’s membership in the International Institute for Compassionate Cities.

Mayor Greg Fischer said the booklet would provide a “comprehensive guide” to local volunteer opportunities.

“Many people want to help with service work, but they don’t know how to go about the process or where to find a place that is a good fit for them,” he said.

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