SAINT LEO, Fla. - In the wake of the tragedy that occurred on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Saint Leo women's lacrosse program felt the heartbreak, pain, and anguish that was experienced by so many people. As a nation tried to wrap its head around the distressing events that took place that day, Head Coach Lesley Graham presented her team with the challenge of performing 27 acts of kindness in honor of the 27 victims. As each act of consideration was completed over the days that ensued, the team learned that by paying it forward to others, they were really giving themselves the best gift of all.
Written by Coach Graham: It's Friday. I wake up. Make coffee. I'm enjoying a luxury today - working from home. It's some of the last quiet moments I will get before the mayhem and chaos of lacrosse season begins. Not that I am complaining, I love that time of year. Recruiting phone calls, film exchange, practice plans, e-mails, e-mails, more e-mails, I'm sure anyone can insert their daily tasks into a list that melts minutes to hours and hours to days, days to weeks. It's what our lives become, and it's easy to forget to stop and smell the roses. But like I said, it's Friday, and the TV is on. The breaking news ticker starts to slowly creep across the bottom of the screen. Shooter. Elementary school. Newtown, Conn. Children dead. My heart drops. The tears flow. I want to hug my nieces and nephews. I want to stop and smell the roses.
It's days like those with senseless tragedies that seem to be coming closer together. And it's days like those that make me stop and take stock in my life as a person, a friend, a sister, daughter, lacrosse coach. What can I do to help? How can I make an impact, even the smallest, in the life of someone else—someone who may need a warm smile or a simple gesture of faith on a difficult day? Small acts of kindness that make a big impact; ironic that so many of the Newtown victims were so small themselves with so much BIG life ahead of them.
As a team, a team of 27 strong, vibrant young women, we decided to do our part. I challenged the girls while home over the holiday break to perform 27 random acts of kindness. Another instance of irony —27 of us, 27 of them.
It wasn't about who could spend the most money; we all know you can't put a dollar amount on the lives of people. It was a way to show our support. Our love. Our compassion. So, the girls decided on ways to help within their own communities. We are taught at Saint Leo that community is a core value, one of the cornerstones to model our lives by. What better way to embody that value than by making an impact in the life of a stranger, of someone less fortunate, of a friend—with the hopes that a small gesture of kindness would help pay the act forward.
Some left gift cards on windshields of stranger's cars in parking lots. Brownies were baked for the grandmas and grandpas of an assisted living facility. Clothes were donated to those who needed them more. Some volunteered at soup kitchens or shelters for displaced victims from Hurricane Sandy, and one even stood in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge to offer passerby's family photo opportunities. Although they may not seem like a lot, it was an opportunity for 26 young women, and myself, to give back; to do something that would put a smile on a face.
I am very proud of my team. We had a chance to learn about more than just X's and O's. We had a chance to learn about character and compassion. And they embraced the opportunity with open arms. It was a special moment. The chance to honor the victims of the Newtown tragedy was not to fill some community service requirement – it was not an obligation – it was because they wanted to.
My hope is that they learned a lesson through it all. That life isn't about material things or mundane daily tasks, even when we get caught up in it all. That they learned the opportunity to be in school, playing lacrosse, is a blessing and a gift to be cherished and valued. That doing things for others doesn't need to be tedious, time consuming, or costly. That even the smallest gesture can make a difference. I know I learned something – that even when the e-mails pile up, and the practice drags on, I need to take a moment and be still and grateful. I need to stop and smell the roses.
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