I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some students from our after school program on a field trip and they truly impressed me with their generosity. We were walking to our bus in San Francisco’s financial district – where we had just finished our visit to one of our corporate partners. On the way to the bus, I learned that the students in our group had arranged among themselves to all bring a little cash to buy snacks at one of the shops along the way – something I would normally have discouraged but acquiesced to because I was in a good mood. In fact, I even joked that I might regret it because some of them bought junk food and I was worried I had set a dangerous precedent.
Our students paused at the corner, waiting for the light to change so they could cross when they came upon a man experiencing homelessness. One of our students, Muhammad, quietly gave his remaining cash from his snack purchase to the man. Another student, upon seeing this, reached into her pocket and did the same. Another followed… and another… and then they all did. All of them gave this man all the money they had left. Without discussing it, 100% of our students gave this man anything they had. Then they moved on with their day as if nothing unusual had happened.
I’ve been impressed with our students before. They are smart, funny, and work hard, but this was a powerful moment for me. Not just because they gave generously, but because they gave unanimously. It doesn’t matter to me if this was an effective giving approach. I don’t normally give directly to people on the street, because I feel that supporting services that have demonstrated their effectiveness would be a better way to address homelessness. In this moment, my students were not concerned with the efficacy of their giving, they were addressing the need right in front of them. They gave everything and they gave without needing to discuss it or even acknowledge it. They didn’t even know I had seen what happened. I wish I had taken a picture, but it all happened so fast.
We spend our days pursuing justice and serving children and youth so that they might be better people, but I think they already are. My students remind me to be optimistic about the future, and to give everything I have. These kids are amazing, and we are privileged to serve them.
For breakfast, I had coffee and a bagel.