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Inspired Through Friendship & Tragedy, Teacher Spreads Kindness

When Phoebe Dawson saw an elderly woman standing outside her stalled car in a freezing parking lot, she knew she had to help. The Northview eighth-grader told her mom to stop their car, got out and transferred the woman’s groceries into their trunk. They drove the woman to her home, unloaded the groceries and returned to jump-start her car.

“It was just like, ‘gotta help her,’” Phoebe recalled later. “It would be a terrible thing to leave an elderly person out in the cold.”

Her caring act was the kind of spontaneous kindness that teacher Sarah Hamstra hopes to jump-start throughout Crossroads Ariel Chaney reads a complimentary comment from a classmate Middle School. She organized a Random Acts of Kindness week there, inspired by a close friend who promoted the spirit of kindness after her son’s tragic death.

“Everybody Love Everybody” was the Facebook motto of Stephen May, a Rockford High School student athlete who died in 2010 from what is believed to be a personal training accident.  It was also the theme of Crossroads’ kindness week, when all the teachers donned T-shirts bearing the slogan.

Hamstra supported Stephen’s mother, Gerilyn, in the aftermath of his death, just as Gerilyn had supported her after the 1990 suicide of Hamstra’s husband. She wants students to know what a difference such kindness and comfort can make for others.

“I’m just passionate about being kind and carrying on (Stephen’s) legacy of the way he lived,” said Hamstra, Gerilyn’s friend since seventh grade. “It’s the way everybody should live.”

Teacher Sarah Hamstra, right, with Cindy Nagelkerk, mother of former Crossroads students, who donated nearly 70 pounds of pennies to Random Acts of Kindness WeekCaring Actions Make a Difference

Hamstra and other Crossroads teachers encouraged students to demonstrate that during national Random Acts of Kindness Week, Feb. 10-14. Teachers made a video wearing the T-shirts and led kindness-promoting activities in their classes.

But the effort will continue: The first Friday of each month will be dubbed Everybody Love Everybody Day, while a charitable fund will be collected through the sale of T-shirts and donations.

In Hamstra’s classroom, students wrote encouraging comments about each other and placed them in a lunch bag.  Ariel Chaney smiled as she read comments that she was smart and a good alto-saxophone player.Kobe Colton shows a classmate a nice comment she wrote about him

“It’s cool,” Ariel said. “Sometimes you don’t really know if people notice you or not. It’s nice to hear good things.”

Kobe Colton said he had opened a door for people at a gas station and gave needed support to a teammate on the wrestling team.

Those are the kinds of things Stephen May did all the time before his death at age 17. His parents subsequently established a Web page in his honor, and Everybody Loves Everybody T-shirts have been sold to people around the world. Proceeds fund student scholarships at Rockford High School and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin School in Belmont, where Stephen attended.

Crossroads teachers wore “Everybody Love Everybody” T-shirts to promote the cause“We are so touched by it,” Gerilyn May said of Hamstra’s efforts. “We just want people to care about each other.”

So does Phoebe Dawson, who helped the woman with the stalled car.

“It’s amazing how one little thing you do can affect someone’s life, and even your own life,” she said.  


Crossroads Middle School teachers’ video promoting acts of kindness

Everybody Love Everybody


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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.


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