HOLIDAY MAGAZINE: ‘Tis the season for kindness

A lot of folks talk the talk about “random acts of kindness,” but Condit Elementary School’s Kara Leeper walks the walk as well. 

The Claremont school’s speech therapist and co-advisor to its student council has taken a program that was once going through the typical student government motions and turned it into a thriving wellspring of giving. 

“Kids can be so self-centered by nature, right?” Ms. Leeper said. “That’s just the way they are. So we’re just trying to get them to think about others. And they’ve loved it.”

Ms. Leeper, along with co-chair and Condit fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Luebbers, recently created a “kindness tree,” where students and faculty can write down an act of kindness on a cutout paper leaf or flowers and attach it to the tree.

“It really took off,” Ms. Luebbers said. “Within the first day, the whole thing was covered.”

And it’s clear the giving gene hasn’t fallen too far from the, um, tree. 

“Our family has this thing where we give a homeless man food and clothes,” said 11-year-old Zack Leeper. The Condit Student Council member and sixth grader—and Ms. Leeper’s son—said the Leeper family has recently been assisting an Upland man named Mike Tietz. Mr. Tietz, who is a 1981 Claremont High School graduate, has been homeless for eight years.

“We’ve always just been like that,” Ms. Leeper said. “My husband works in Apple Valley and there’s a huge homeless population there.”

The Leeper family has brought Mr. Tietz clothing and food, and even tried to get him into a homeless shelter, but since he has a dog, the shelter would not admit him.

“She’s a sweetheart,” Mr. Tietz said of Ms. Leeper. “I’ve known her probably half a year now. She helps me out quite a bit.”

The kindness tree project at Condit began unexpectedly with the combination of a simple act of carelessness and a random click on Facebook. Last year, the student council had a large group—about 40 members—and at the beginning of one meeting a student dropped a stack of papers near the door.

As the kids filed in for the meeting, they all stepped over the papers. Nobody stopped to pick up the mess.

“So I said to them, ‘You guys, you need to be more aware,’” Ms. Leeper recalled. “‘You need to be more aware of each other and help each other.’ And then this summer, I saw this video online.” 

The clip was of Florida special education teacher Chris Ulmer earnestly and lovingly complimenting his students. Mr. Ulmer posted it on his “Special Books by Special Kids” Facebook page last November and the clip went viral. The Special Books page had been liked by nearly 800,000 users.

“The video completely motivated me to make changes in how I teach and how I advise student council,” Ms. Leeper said. “I shared it with Jennifer [Luebbers] and we immediately took off with it. We searched Pinterest and found the ‘kindness tree’ idea and many more ideas that we are excited to implement.”

The Condit Student Council’s theme this year is “A kind word can lift a soul and change the world.” Every month, the kids undertake a different project around this theme. The kindness tree will be up through fall.

Next up will be “blessing bags” for the homeless, where the student council kids will use donated items from families and teachers to fill bags with a new pair of socks, a granola bar, a toothbrush and toothpaste, gum, mints and other supplies. Last year the group passed out 45 bags, and Ms. Leeper said she thinks this year’s project will yield an even larger bounty.

The council also has plans for a drive in April to accumulate donated dog and cat toys for Pomona’s Inland Valley Humane Society.

Another student council member, fifth grader Camille Leible, made “pink pins” to raise money for people battling breast cancer.

“We sold them for 50 cents each,” Camille said, “and raised $85.40. The remainder we taped to cards and we’re going to give them to people with breast cancer so they can wear their pins proudly.”

Getting Condit’s students to focus on those less fortunate has been a very rewarding experience for everyone, Ms. Leeper said.

“I mean, we’re so blessed and lucky here. And we don’t realize how people really do struggle, even here. If you open your eyes, there are plenty of people here that struggle as well,” she said.

For Ms. Leeper, her hope is all of this will lead the kids to be good, respectful citizens and to help others.

“The simplest random act of kindness really can change someone’s day, or even change someone forever. You never know. It really was to try to get them to think about helping others and how if you make someone else’s day great, that will make your day great too. Sometimes it makes you feel better than the person you’re helping,” she said.

To see the video that inspired the kindness tree project, visit Youtube and search “Florida Teacher Starts Each Day Complimenting Students One by One.” The Special Books for Special Kids’ Facebook page is at facebook.com/specialbooksbyspecialkids.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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