Saturday, October 14, 2017

Operation Common Good

Every once in a get to be a part of something so amazing, so perfectly perfect that there are not words to describe it. Operation Common Good is that thing for me.

This morning I woke up and I wanted to write. Yesterday one of my most favorite people told me to blog this weekend. She knows I have so much to say and she knows I have to do something to help people...especially kids. I see and feel injustice all the time. I can't pretend it isn't there. I can't compartmentalize my need to fight for people that can't fight for themselves. I have to do SOMETHING. And the world seems to have gone mad, and I see it impacting our kids every day. I want to fight and speak out and make a difference. I kept thinking about what I want to write about. Racial injustice? The treatment of children of color? Legislation that hurts schools? The Pledge of Allegiance? The dismantling of public education? The fact that I came across some sixth graders this week that think Mexico is our enemy? My frustration with people making decisions about classrooms that haven't been in one? Ever?


I'll get back to that. Today I want to write about the most amazing thing I have ever been a part of, and encourage anyone that reads this to do something in their own community to help kids that need it. Somebody has to.

Sometimes I feel like I have hit a wall and can't find a way to help kids. And then I remember OCG. And this has to be where I spend my energy. Because what happens when I do??? Hungry kids get fed. Families with chronic lice get the help they desperately need. Seniors living in poverty get to go to prom and 10-year-olds aren't left out of field trips because they can't afford to pay the $15.00 fee. And lots and lots of little kids get snow pants. LITTLE KIDS NEED SNOW PANTS! But when putting food on the table is the only thing parents can focus on, snow pants and boots have to take a back seat. I would love to tell you that our schools are in tune with the needs of children, particularly the most vulnerable of them. But we aren't.

I apologize in advance that I am the star of this video. I prefer to put kids front and center of all things...but in this case, I guess I AM the face of OCG. I am the founder. I am the one that speaks at events and goes out into schools and communities to get support. It works too...but only, I believe, because this is truly an organization created BY kids FOR kids. And need their teachers to help them save the world. So that is what I do.

Operation Common Good started in 2005 when my 8th grade history class learned about a family I was helping during the holidays. We were learning about the Core Democratic Values, and supporting the "common good" is one of them. I told them about a mother in a nearby community that I was helping. She was dying of cancer and had five young children and no support. Within a couple of weeks, my kids had raised over $3000.00 by carrying a jug around and collecting change. (And some kids asked their parents for checks!) We provided everything on their Christmas wish lists, and then some. And were able to help multiple other families as well.

It was an extraordinary experience. But we soon learned of a family with five children, some our own Warner Vikings, who were living in their car. My partner, Hatty, and I decided we needed to focus our efforts on helping kids in Farmington from that point forward. It seemed that kids living in poverty, but in an affluent community, had greater challenges. They were going to extreme measures to avoid being "caught" being poor, after all, we are Farmington. And most of us have all of our needs being met and then some. We raised money in a jug for years...and got so big that our (AMAZING) principal started nagging us about becoming a legal 501c3. He worried that we may have outgrown our "tin can method." (That was an understatement) Having a principal committed to social justice and supporting kids at all costs allowed us to turn OCG into a big deal (Thank you, Mark, for being our hero and the reason OCG has made such an incredible impact). We are now a legal 501c3 under the umbrella of the Farmington/Farmington Hills Education Foundation.

Over the past 12 years we have raised almost $100,000.00 through school and community fundraisers. The above video clips are from an amazing event at the Faith Covenant Church in Farmington Hills. The amazing women hosting that day raised over $8000.00 in one afternoon. And EVERY SINGLE PENNY helped a kid in their community. When I walked in that day, I had NO IDEA what I was about to see and do. I had spoken at numerous events, but this one was different. This was BIG. I realized that day just why so many community organizations wanted to help us. They love that we have no overhead. They love that kids are included and in charge of the fundraising. And they WANT to help families in our own community. The only thing I could think that day cup runneth over.

We got to the point at Warner where we were able to raise $10,000.00 in one week...thanks to the energy of elementary teachers and the most amazing 10 and 11-year olds. We had it down to a science. Our 5th and 6th graders were raising ALL of the money for a district of 10,000. And they did it with smiles on their faces and kindness in their hearts. But then...just like came to an end. Our school was no longer our school and our platform for fundraising was gone. I learned a lot about the consequences of doing good things just for the sake of doing good things. In an environment that is wrought with competition and focused on adult comforts first, people like me breed resentment. My OCG partners and I have even been invited to present OCG at the National Homelessness Conference. We didn't get to, but it was so cool to be asked. I want the opportunity to share OCG because it is an amazing way to give kids in your community a chance to feel like they are not watching the rest of us from the other side of a glass wall.

Last year, at my new school, a couple of dedicated teachers, my new administrators, and the PTA president found a way to keep OCG alive. We were running out of money.  I had accepted the fact that I could no longer do what I do. I had essentially been defeated. But my new school community proved to me that there are amazing people everywhere. One incredible human being (another principal) even ate a worm to support OCG. Yes. She ATE a live worm. And if I remember correctly we raised over $700.00 just hoping to watch her consume a slimy, squirmy, dirt-covered worm. Great educators (great people) will do anything when they know the result is the ability to feed and clothe a hungry child.

I am exhausted from fighting for equity and basic decency for children in my community. I am exhausted from trying to keep my own name off of my own non-profit so as not to build more resentment. I am exhausted. But I remembered this morning just how energized I feel when I am depositing thousands of dollars into our account, and imagining all of the kids whose lives will be just a little bit better because we took the time to raise money and awareness.

We are almost out of money again. So I am going to commit myself to spreading the word about Operation Common Good. I hope teachers around my own district see this and ask what they can do in their schools. Schools have become fundraising factories, but when you start to ask outside organizations about the percentage of donations that will be spent on overhead, it is disheartening. Especially when the kids could be raising money for their own friends (unbeknownst to them) and classmates that desperately need help. I hope this spreads to more local businesses and organizations looking for a way to give back to their own communities. I hope I get tons of requests to speak at different events this year. I hope kids that are worried, hungry and scared are a little less worried, a little less hungry and a little less scared.

It is starting to get cold. We are going to need help to keep kids in Farmington and Farmington Hills warm and fed. People still don't believe that poverty exists in such an affluent community. But one out of five children in our community is food challenged. And they do NOT want you to know. They just want to feel and look like any other student.

And that is why I do this.

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