Editor’s Note: The following is one in a series of articles being featured in the Bangor Daily News highlighting a local Pay it Forward movement with stories of ordinary people benefiting from acts of kindness and how they choose to pay that kindness forward. These will be featured on the Positively Maine page.
BANGOR, Maine — Fairmount School faculty and staff has a history of giving above and beyond the call of educational, office and cafeteria duty, said fifth-grade teacher Joe Bennett. Their acts of kindness have included buying football cleats for students, making sure a child has a warm jacket for Christmas, paying the fee to enable a student to participate in recreational basketball, and even chipping in to make sure that a child could continue seeing a therapist after other funding ran out.
Over the years of such attention to students’ needs, the concept of paying it forward grew naturally into the mix. Recipients of those acts of kindness, said school guidance counselor Wendy Downes, paid it forward in small but positive ways.
“The students became more helpful and they recognized that other children had special needs and reached out to them. They were more accepting of diversity,” she said. “It was interesting to watch them branch out to help others, to see that their self-concept had morphed to seeing themselves as good people with something to give. Fairmount is a giving school.”
The idea of paying it forward was underscored for Bennett’s fifth-graders during Community Reading Day on March 7 at the school when volunteer reader Mary Lyon, executive director of Literacy Volunteers Bangor, read excerpts of “The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects” by Barbara Lewis.
The students, however, were no strangers to volunteerism and paying it forward. At least half the class volunteers in the school store. The money they raised was used to purchase soccer balls to send to students in Africa. They agreed that doing something nice for someone else made them feel good about themselves. It was a way “to spread the love,” in the words of one boy in the class.
Lyon began her presentation by reading from the book a quote from President Obama: “We need your service right now.”
“We always have something to give, even if it’s a smile,” Lyon said. She pointed out, using the book as a guide, that doing kind things for others is the right thing to do, that it builds confidence in the doer and gives the recipient something to smile about.
When the children discussed what Lyon had been telling them, they homed in on friendliness as a way they can help a new student feel at home.
Lyon suggested that students interested in volunteering should first check with their parents then visit volunteermaine.org to learn about organizations that accept young volunteers.
Lyon also talked about her work at Literacy Volunteers Bangor, which offers free tutoring to adults who want to improve their reading skills or who want to improve their English language skills. She said that one in four people in the Bangor area have difficulty reading and that half of all her organization’s clients come from other countries, especially China.
Lyon also emphasized the message of Community Reading Day by showing the children the first book she ever read all on her own at age 4 — “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss. “Everywhere you look there are words,” she said to underscore her point about the importance of reading.
That point — and that of giving of oneself — also is a feature of the decor in Bennett’s classroom where banner-size words of wisdom are displayed, including You Never Know What You Can Do Until You Try; This is a Positive Thinking Area; and No One Can Do Everything, but Everyone Can Do Something.
Veteran teacher David Johnson and student teacher Charlotte Royce sat in on the session and helped facilitate discussion among the students.
Community Reading Day at the school was sponsored by Bangor’s Kiwanis Club and coordinated by school librarian Mary Ann Perry. “We want students to get the message that reading is a lifelong enjoyment,” she said. Other volunteer readers for the day included Ann Mundy, retired Bangor Public Library children’s librarian; City Councilor Ben Sprague who attended Fairmount School when he was a child; Brewer City Councilor Archie Verow, and others.
Lyons also referred students to goodreads.com, a website about books and reading.
For information about LIteracy Volunteers, call 947-8451 or visit lvbangor.org.