November 17, 2022 | Nancy Van Epps
by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi
On the way to Park Time with his seventh grade class this week, Mr. Harris noticed an older man actively searching through piles of leaves. As an aside, he said, “Oh, I wonder what that man is looking for?”
In response, a group of his students approached the man. Upon discovering that he had lost a cherished ring somewhere in the park, classmates Tristan, Devin, London, and James joined the hunt. When the sixth grade class arrived for their Park Time, students Aaron, Luca, Finn, Leah, and George aided in the search as well.
“Then, River joined the group and found the ring almost immediately,” says Mr. Harris. “By the time the ring was recovered, my group was 10 minutes into their 20 minute Park Time and they displayed no signs of letting up.”
That afternoon, I received the following email:
Dear Ms Choi,
My name is John and I am compelled to write regarding an extraordinary experience I had today involving students from your – I believe – 6th and 7th grade classes.
My wife and I visit Hoboken on a regular basis, babysitting for our toddler granddaughter. Our daily routine almost always takes us to Church Square Park, where we enjoy—almost as much as our granddaughter—the lively surroundings and the happy cries of children at play.
The routine of my day was interrupted when, as I was playing in the fallen leaves with my granddaughter, I looked down at my hand and – horrified – discovered that my father’s keepsake college ring had slipped off my finger. My dad was a first-generation, late-in-life graduate of Syracuse University. Pursuing our education was always a centerpiece of what he tried to instill in us, and he did so first by his own example. Upon his passing in 2015, his ring was left with me, and my intent has always been and remains to pass it along to my own, along with its symbolism.
Panic-stricken, I fell to my hands and knees in what I feared was a futile attempt to retrieve it. It truly – almost literally- was the proverbial “needle in a haystack” effort.
I must’ve been quite the spectacle, a 70-year-old grandfather crawling through the leaves in my desperation. Almost out of nowhere, a young person came upon me and asked, “Did you lose something?” Then another youngster followed him. And another, and another.
Before I knew it, I’d shared the crux of my story with a group of a dozen of what surely must be the very best of your young people. They searched as frantically as I did, and it left quite an impression on me. They were like a swarm of locusts descending on a cornfield. Imagine my relief, my joy, and my appreciation when the cry came from a leaf pile about 30 yards away that the ring had been found!
The reason for my note to you is twofold. One is to have you relay – once again – my heartfelt thanks to those great kids for doing what they did. But also, to somehow let them know how a random act of kindness can be so important and so meaningful to someone.
I tried my best to explain how grateful l was, and yes, I emptied my wallet of the few bucks I had as a trivial reward. They alternately refused and suggested that the one who actually found the ring should get the reward – again impressing me and illustrating some fundamentally sound human instincts that – it seems – are too often lacking in folks these days.
A favorite quote of mine comes from former NJ Senator and NBA basketball star Bill Bradley. In his book, Time Present, Time Past, he suggests that “The ethos of a civil society is giving something to another without the expectation of a return.” Perhaps Mr. Bradley attended The Mustard Seed School?
As we chatted, the students proudly shared their school’s motto “Change Makers.” What has always occurred to me is that while precious few of us may ever be able to change the world on a global level, true humanity and real change happens far more often face-to-face.
We aren’t always aware of or fully understand the impact we might be having on another as we interact with them in our daily lives. The Mustard Seed students I met today – their energy, their concern for my plight, and their quick and selfless act of pure kindness changed the course of my day and saved me from a very sad ending, a sadness that would’ve stayed with me for a very long time. Instead, I have a memory and a story I’ll continue to share as long as I’m around.
There really are heroes all around us. And they are not the quarterbacks, the rock stars, or the politicians. They are the kids like the ones I met today.
Whatever you folks are doing over there, please keep it going!
What a lovely message! While it is always gratifying to hear praise of our students—any Head of School would be thrilled to receive such an email—I am not surprised by their collaborative act of kindness! Mustard Seed children learn early that God loves them and that they live lives of meaning and purpose. Our students appreciate the interconnectedness of all people and creation, and demonstrate that appreciation through faith, arts, service, and academics.
Case in point: Every year, for more than 30 years, the MSS Kindergarten class leads a donation drive of baby food jars for local shelters including In Jesus Name, an interfaith food and clothing pantry hosted by Our Lady of Grace Church.
“Anyone who has ever heard a baby crying because they are hungry knows what a heart-rendering ordeal that can be,” says In Jesus Name Director April Harris. “Although we do not see starvation in this area, there are families experiencing instability due to interrupted income, hardship or crisis.”
“Babies are the most vulnerable of this vulnerable population, and with all the special equipment, formula, and diapers, their expenses can be a major pressure point for a family. Baby formula shortages due to the pandemic have only exacerbated the problem. I appreciate the fact that Mustard Seed has honored their commitment to support the most vulnerable in our midst for so long.”
Our students feel empowered and possess the resilience to solve major problems. They participate in a decades-long MSS tradition of providing food for babies at risk. If they can have an impact in alleviating poverty in Hoboken as a Kindergarten student, how challenging is a little needle in a haystack at the park when they reach Middle School?
I am continually inspired and thankful to lead this community of Change Makers who always strive to be their best selves. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
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