A man fleeing a wildfire begged her for help. That's when this kid sprang into action.
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Hasbro Be Fearless Be Kind

One morning in Santa Cruz, a man in a dusty SUV rolled into town looking for help.

“He was distraught,” says Chyna Darby in an email. She and her young daughter Reese, 11, listened as the man asked for directions to the highway, any highway. He kept telling them he was trying to find his wife. Inside the car were all of the man’s belongings and his three small dogs.

Eventually, the Darbys figured out that the man was fleeing his house in Northern California, where wildfires were consuming entire towns. “He had lost his home and had not slept in three days,” she says. “He just wanted to find somewhere safe.”


The Darbys helped the man gain his bearings as much as they could. But even after he drove off, young Reese couldn’t stop thinking about the man and others like him who had lost everything. “She felt how devastated he was,” Chyna says. Reese decided to do something about it. Little did she know, that desire to make a difference would only be the beginning.

Photo courtesy of Pacific Elementary.

Kids cope with tragedy in a lot of different ways. Reese and her friends responded by launching into action.

That night, Reese and her friend Brooke Andrews put their heads together to figure out how they could help the victims of the NorCal fires. The next day, they brought their ideas to school and started planning a bake sale.

“It was one week from idea to execution!” says Chyna. “As the week went on, the event took on a life of its own.”

Photo courtesy of Pacific Elementary.

What started as a conversation between two kids was now a movement: students were baking, soliciting donations, making posters and signs, and booking entertainment. Three of the kids even wrote jokes and sold them typed up on paper.

It was an act of kindness that made a real difference.

“The tables weren't even set up on Pacific Avenue downtown before members of the Santa Cruz community were buying goods and donating money,” says Chyna.

Over the course of just two days, the kids raised more than $1,800 for the victims of the Northern California fires.

Photo courtesy of Pacific Elementary.

The bake sale had a lot more impact than just the donations it provided to victims and their families.

It also gave the kids an opportunity to process a pretty difficult topic — loss — in a positive and healthy way.

“It came up during class, recess, lunch, carpools, and in homes,” Chyna says. The discussions the kids were having about the fires, both with adults and among themselves, made it clear that they were deeply affected.

But after the fundraiser, the students were able to look back and see how helping others in times of need is good not only for the people receiving help, but for them too.

Photo courtesy of Pacific Elementary.

“It felt great,” said Iphigenia Wilder, 9, in a written statement. “I love helping people.” Armiel Goodman, 8, wrote, “It felt good to know that I was helping people in need.”

“The fundraiser was a bit of the ‘art therapy’-type experience,” says Chyna. “The process provided the students a hands on avenue for processing, feeling empathy, and becoming empowered to help ... all while having fun.”

The kids also had an opportunity to gain valuable skills from the experience of planning and executing a charitable event.

The teachers at the school used the opportunity to engage kids in different interdisciplinary lessons related to the fire and the fundraiser.

“A few of the older students did research into aspects of the fire that interested them,” says Chyna. “Where do people go if they lose their house? What services provide support for disasters?”

Photo courtesy of Pacific Elementary.

Younger kids were given math assignments to help calculate the profits from the sale and the expense of mailing out the gift cards to the victims. And ultimately, it was the kids who were allowed to discuss, vote on, and eventually decide where the funds raised should go.

Pacific Elementary’s event shows us how kids can have an incredible, positive impact — both on those in need and on their own personal development.

When given the opportunity, kids like the students of Pacific Elementary can use their creativity, compassion, and enthusiasm to do great things and make a difference in people's lives.

“The big picture hope is that their connection to this event and their efforts to help will engender empathy and a feeling of empowerment that will stay with them as they move in the world,” says Chyna.

“While our achievements may be a drop in the bucket, our hope is this will help those it reaches, and be a stepping stone to greater works in the future.”

That’s our hope too.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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If you listened to traditional news media (and sometimes social media), you'd begin to think the Internet and technology are bad for kids. Or kids are bad for technology. Here's a fascinating alternative idea.

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Norton

This article originally appeared on 03.31.15

Kids can innovate, create, and imagine in ways that are fresh and inspiring — when we "allow" them to do so, anyway. Despite the tendency for parents to freak out because their kids are spending more and more time with technology in schools, and the tendency for schools themselves to set extremely restrictive limits on the usage of such technology, there's a solid argument for letting them be free to imagine and then make it happen.

It's not a stretch to say the kids in this video are on the cutting edge. Some of the results he talks about in the video at the bottom are quite impressive.

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