How can a child with so few resources, make the world a better place?
Common Cents is an organization in New York that provides children a chance to look into their communities, see problems, ask questions, and find answers by using their creativity and generosity. The organization began 20 years ago when the founder Teddy Gross' daughter asked him what she could do for the homeless man she saw on the street. Since then, Teddy has developed the organization into a force that nurtures children's generosity and moral character through the skills and responsibilities of democratic participation. One of their most famous service-learning program is the Penny Harvest, the largest child philanthropy program in the country, shows young people the ability to change the world by turning pennies into grants for community organizations.
HappyDoll's Executive Director, Nozomi Terao, was invited by Teddy to collaborate on one of Common Cents' literacy and mentoring program projects called "Cookies and Dreams". Each older student tutors a pre-schooler in reading. The curriculum has been taken in by several public and private schools in Manhattan.
We had the privilege of visiting the 4th grade class at PS51M. Each students were paired with their buddies in 1st grade to help them read, and experience what it means to be a good role model and mentor to the younger students. We thought that creating a HappyDoll together would be an excellent friendship building activity.
So, on Tuesday morning, we walked into the class to introduce our organization by showing photographs from our past HappyDolls sessions to the class. It was then, that something unbelievable happened.
Do you remember Yuki & Miyu? We made friends with them earlier this year.
As we were explaining the program, one of the students, Riki, started to squirm around like he was holding in an explosion. Then, he pointed at the picture and shouted, "Hey, that's Yuki's sister and mother!"
We all looked at each other in disbelief. It turns out, Yuki studied in this classroom with these kids while his sister, Miyu, went through a heart transplant surgery at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital! He left in November to go back to Okinawa, but had told us how much he missed his classmates in New York. (see Yuki and family's photo here)
Common Cents was the one who chose this class for HappyDoll, but neither of us had any idea that we would be in Yuki's class- what are the chances?!
The program was divided into two days. On the first day, the big buddies visited the 1st grade class to choose a book together and read to them. Some read out loud together, some helped the young ones read, and some changed the tone of their voices for each of the characters in the book. After that, everyone decorated their HappyDoll postcards to brainstorm how they wanted to design their dolls. The more the students brainstormed, the more anxious and excited they became to decorate their HappyDolls.
On the second day, the students got together with their buddies again to draw on the actual HappyDoll! We were amazed at how creative and artistic everyone's dolls turned out.
Ethan and David wrote messages on each other's dolls!
Finally, the students exchanged their HappyDolls with their buddies before saying good bye.
Justin, one of Yuki's closest friends, came up with the idea of making a HappyDoll for Yuki to send back to him. We hope you like the doll, Yuki!
After the session, we received wonderful feed back from Ms. Leah Fernandes from Common Cents, and a very kind message from Ms. Nancy Sing-Bock, the principle of PS51M:
" I enjoyed seeing students decorating their happy dolls today and writing messages to one another. I think the cross-mentoring program is going very well. I noticed that so many of the students paired together are developing a very special relationship with one another. They wrote such beautiful messages to one another. The reading buddies and happy dolls project are engaging all the students fostering them to talk, communicate, work, and share common experiences together.
Thank you all for your enthusiasm and active participation in this wonderful program. I think this experience will be something they will always remember. I still can't believe that Riki recognized Yuki's sister in the photograph with a happy doll in Japan. What a small world!"
Here's the video message from Ms. Fernandes!
The Cookie and Dreams project at PS51M will be covered by NPR, so be sure to follow their story!
This event was the first time the HappyDolls traveled across a classroom, connecting one child to another within a school instead of traveling abroad. We were deeply moved by Common Cents' project, and we are so grateful to have discovered a new way to connects children through this session. A BIG THANK YOU to the students and teachers at PS51M, and Common Cents. We would especially like to thank Teddy for inviting us to meet the wonderful students and friends of Yuki.
Stay tuned! We’ve got more exciting events coming your way…
-Help lift the spirits of children in need by donating to happydoll.org-