I often tell a story of a time I had a student injured on a senior trip and how his family, without insurance, meant that the hospital bill had to fall to someone and that someone was me. At the time, I thought the bill would be repaid by the school district which it wasn't because they couldn't - not their policy. Long story short, years passed and I swallowed the cost of the hospital bill. Then one night a knock came to my door. It was the kid. He said, "I've been waiting tables and I know I owe you for that time on the senior trip." He had all the cash of the hospital bill and I felt like Willy Wonka when Charlie returned a gobstopper. It was a lot of money.
Then last night I received another email.
During my first years of teaching, I mentored a kid who had a tug-at-your-heart story. He had tremendous pride and didn't want anyone to know how difficult things were for him in his life. He was involved in seedy activities from time to time to help his family and from a very young age he did whatever it took to support his parents. His tals threw me upside down because I would have never guessed it was as extreme as it was. It was bad...real bad. I went to the high school counselor and shared what I learned about his homelife. She encouraged me to apply for a district scholarship that supported a kid with an unbelievable story. I talked with the young man and asked if he'd allow me to narrate his story for the scholarship donors and he said, "only if it is anonymous." It was. And he won.
Fast forward to last night when the the email arrives.
The young man made it through college because of the financial support. He moved away from Louisville and worked in finance and marketing. He continued to support his family from afar, but legally this time, and has done very well for himself economically. He wrote that he's ready to create a scholarship fund for young people like him and to give back to the world what he once received. He wondered how he goes about this and what I might do to help him. He wanted to know if he should create a non-profit, how to contact a school, and what steps to take next.
I simply smiled with pride.
Both of these stories didn't need to turn out this way. Yet, investing in youth who had integrity, a difficult road, and the potential to do amazing things paid off. It's too easy to give up on young people because there's little time and the gamble is risky. Here, though, I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I was the type of teacher who knew kids beyond the parameters of academics, alone, and that could believe in their larger souls so they would one day do what is right. I can hear the voices of others, though, saying, "Fool. You take on too much. They'll only disappoint you in the end."
Well, it's not the way these stories ended.