I ran across this article in the Harlan Daily Enterprise and I wanted to share it on my blog. It really doesn’t need an introduction. Pat Bryson’s words say it all. But let me share this quote from Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
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Esther: Example of encouragement
by PAT BRYSON
An e-mail appeared on my computer on March 5 that thrilled my heart; it was one of those “Yes” moments……a perfect example of the kind of one to one encouragement that I had described in the article following the 20/20 documentary. The words were written by Laura Adkisson and sent to Debby Howard, both real encouragers of Esther.
Laura and others from our Cawood Ledford Boys’ and Girls’ Club were in Frankfort with Esther who was competing for the Kentucky Youth of the Year award. Laura wrote:
“It is very early on Thursday morning and Esther hasn’t begun the competition portion yet, but already she has done an amazing thing. During a visit with Senator Brandon Smith yesterday, Esther delivered her speech. He was so taken by her story that he invited her to give her speech at a Senate Republican Caucus meeting yesterday afternoon. It was a pretty intimidating crowd…lots of important people in suits sitting around long tables in leather chairs. The audience was also full with senate staffers and aides as well as three VERY nervous Boys&Girls Club staff. Senator Smith introduced Esther and escorted her to the head of the table. There she stood and spoke for three minutes about the hardships she has faced in life and the ways the club has helped. She spoke with conviction and gave a flawless delivery (without a single note card, I should add).
At the end of her speech, the room erupted into a standing ovation with the senators and audience in tears. Esther, in her Esther way, smiled and began to make her way back to her seat, but she found that difficult as the room of people crowded around her to hug her and shake her hand. Everywhere we went the rest of the day, Esther’s reputation preceded her. At a dinner that night, the lobbyist who works for Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs at the Capitol interrupted Esther as she was eating. He told her that he had never seen an ovation like that in a meeting of that sort. He thanked her for making his job easier. The senator who spoke at the dinner took a timeout from his speech to tell the group what a phenomenal job Esther had done. While it will be hours before we know if Esther will be state youth of the year, I can already promise that, regardless of the winner, Esther is by far the most influential Boys & Girls Club member (out of 36,000 members) in the state right now.
I can honestly say that sitting in that caucus was the most fulfilling moment of my life; our community has built an exceptional child, and your school has been working for Esther longer than anyone has. What a success story for all of us! Thank you for sharing Esther with us and for contributing to her in your own ways! Laura”
What an amazing story! What an amazing accomplishment! What an amazing Esther! Esther, when I knew her as a Sunshine School student, was the shyest, most reserved student that I had ever encountered; she hardly ever spoke, and when she did, it was barely a whisper. Her little eyes, covered with glasses, usually were focused on the floor. We knew that it took all of the reserve that she had just to come to school, and we had to build trust with her very slowly. She was a precious child, but no one could have convinced me that she would ever make a public speech anywhere, especially before senators and representatives
Throughout the years, I have watched Esther with interest. As she grew older I started noticing her name listed on the boards headed “Proficient” and “Distinguished” in the school halls; then I would see her at the gym with friends (some made at Sunshine School). I felt in my heart that one or two of the parents of those children were in the background supporting the interests of this child in many different kinds of ways — the ways that make the difference.
As I have expressed in this column before, I am very interested in how adults in our community can help children who have potential but are at risk financially. I have asked Esther to answer some questions about this subject. Her answers are as follows:
What were three things that kept you going in hard times?
1. “Faith that God would help us through each day and make everything okay.
2. The help and mentors like the people at FRYSC, the staff at my Boys’ & Girls’ Club, my teachers and…….” (she named two individuals who know who they are) and
3. Choosing to focus on the positive things in my life and making the best of the situation I was in.”
Did parents of your fellow students reach out to you to help with expenses or take you to events or on trips? She replied, “Yes, when we had basketball trips or school trips a family would help me pay expenses like food and things. One of the mothers helped raise money for my trip with the Musettes to California and gave me spending money. One Mom takes me shopping each year before camp to get my supplies for Camp Nathaniel. Different parents have offered to help with money at school and on trips even without me asking, and they would insist I take it, even if I didn’t need it.”
What is the best way to encourage a child in your position surrounded by people who don’t see (or maybe don’t want to see) the hard time the child is having? Her answer: “I can tell you the things that encouraged me growing up. The people who treated me well and made me feel accepted, not because of what I had but because of who I am. People believed in me and made me feel valuable, and I wanted to live up to the hope they had for me.”
Do you have anything to tell me about how to get people involved in helping kids? Her reply, “When kids are in a situation like mine, they need hope. Kids can’t believe in themselves unless other people believe in them too. When you show a kid that you have hope in them, it makes them want to succeed. You can’t just do one thing. You have to keep helping and encouraging kids. You don’t just stop. You do as much as you can. Maybe a good way to encourage people to get involved is to share stories like mine with people about how the help of others has impacted me and really made a difference.”
We are all proud of Esther; Esther is our child, easy to love. But Esther deserves much credit herself; she started out even as an emerging preschooler, doing hard things. She wills to succeed and wills to work hard toward goals. Another person could not give her that; that is Esther’s alone.
But the encouragement, others did give every step of the way. One of the things that I love about Harlan County is that the kind of attitude and work ethic and determination to hurdle the odds, like Esther shows, is usually encouraged and applauded and helped. That is what the photographers don’t get, don’t understand.
My desire in all of this is to link those who care with those who need the help and encouragement. There are people out there who are retired or lonely or lacking a purpose who could link up with a struggling student and be his or her adopted grandparent or be the one who writes him a letter once a week or helps with homework. People will react by saying, “But I don’t know anyone like that.”
Schools are full of children who need an encouraging word; I read once of a Holocaust survivor who said that those who had just one person in their lives who really loved them could make it through difficult times. She credited her survival in a concentration camp to a person outside her immediate family who really loved her when she was young. Someone reaching out to help a child who “doesn’t have to” is a mighty instrument in the child’s rescue.
Esther did win! When Esther wins, we all win!
You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org