The Thomas J. Pappas Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, isn’t a typical school. At the end of the day, students don’t go home, because they don’t have homes. After school, the buses drop them off at various homeless shelters, old hotels, or even under bridges.
When the stake youth committee of the Mesa Central Stake learned about this school, they wanted to do something for the students. They wanted to give them a day of fun and activities, so they planned a carnival with games, sports, and food. But the youth of the stake found that they gained much more than they gave.
On the morning of the activity, anticipation was high. What would students from a homeless school be like? What would they talk about? How would they act?
The youth from the stake were each partnered with a student from the school as a “buddy,” or mentor, for the day. After eating breakfast with their new friends, everyone was divided into groups to rotate through the different activities.
Tashia Wood, from the Lazona Ward, was paired with a 10-year-old girl named Angelica. Tashia, 16, was nervous at first, but soon discovered that she had more in common with Angelica than she thought. “It was really cool because they were just like us,” Tashia said. “They just wanted to have fun.”
After Angelica won a prize at one game, she gave it to Tashia and said, “I want you to have this because I don’t want you to forget me.”
“She wasn’t selfish at all,” Tashia said. “She taught me not to take for granted what I have, because I have a lot of stuff and I’m usually whining about things I can’t have. Instead she gave to me, and she hardly has anything. She usually doesn’t even have a home to go to at night.”
Joey Reidhead, 17, from the Harris Second Ward, quickly became good friends with his partner, 4-year-old Mikey. “He was very quiet. He didn’t talk very much. But you could tell when he was excited,” Joey said. “He was so excited, he went around to every single game twice. When I was taking Mikey around, he was just like a little brother to me.”
But what Joey remembers most isn’t the excitement of the day but the lesson about gratitude he learned when it was time for Mikey to go home.
“When he left to get on the bus, he said to me, ‘Why do I have to go?’ I wish I could have traded everything that I had, because I had been so ungrateful. I wish I could have just given it to him, because I had taken it for granted so many times. I loved him so much, and it was strange that I had only known this boy for maybe three hours, and I had this overwhelming love for him. It was amazing.”
Most of the youth who participated in this activity had the same observation—in their efforts to give, they had received. They came away from the activity more grateful for their blessings. In their efforts to provide a day of entertainment for homeless children, they learned a valuable lesson in gratitude.
The ripple effect from this one day of activities has turned into a deluge of opportunity for service and sharing the gospel. Since the carnival, several Scouts have proposed Eagle projects that will aid the homeless children in their city. Several wards have gathered school supplies and clothing to donate to the school, and the carnival is now an annual event.