Kindness breaks barriers, and for six SJHS students who learned to pay it forward, United Way has given back to them.
North Colonie teaching Assistant Patti Comas wanted her class to be able to participate in United Way’s GCR 518 Day. So, she modified the 518 Day Random Acts of Kindness BINGO card so her students with autism and communication difficulties could feel cool to be kind.
“Part of my duties includes teaching functional life skills,” Mrs. Comas said. “Due to the pandemic and relocation of our classroom for the year, a lot of what we typically teach as life skills such as cooking and shopping, could not happen. But what life skill could be more important than being kind and helping our community? When I saw the Bingo board I thought it would be the perfect activity for my students to try!”
The lesson lasted a few days, starting with reading the book Be Kind and talking about the importance of helping others. Each day their goal was to get two or three BINGO squares filled in. Mrs. Comas said, “When things go a little differently than planned in the classroom we say we are taking a detour. With our Bingo boards we took a detour from the traditional five in a row. Instead we decided that we would just be happy to be able to complete any five Bingo squares. A huge accomplishment for our kiddos!”
“You guys have changed the game,” said Shaker alum and President & CEO at United Way of the Greater Capital Region, Peter Gannon. “When I think about what you did as part of this program with us at United Way on 518 Day, it gives me great hope for the future when I see young people like yourselves leading with kindness. It’s so important.”
“This was a great opportunity for our students to see that everyone has gifts that can be shared with the community, ” said Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Skeals. “We can all contribute, and we are all better when we work together for the greater good.”
The students were busy spreading joy by donating to the Bison Breakfast Club, giving coffee to hall monitors, making flowers and handing them out to school staff, collecting and donating food, and creating thank you cards for veterans, first responders and healthcare workers.
On behalf of United Way, Mr. Gannon recognized these actions as extraordinary. “Our students here with different abilities always have a special place in my heart because you understand what struggle is, but you persevere and you use your abilities to succeed and make a great life,” Mr. Gannon told the students. “You have gone beyond that with this project by making life better for other people with random acts of kindness.” Mr. Gannon presented each student with a certificate, movie tickets to Bow Tie Cinemas, and shirts from 518 Day.
Classroom teacher, Michael Mochi said he hadn’t heard of 518 Day before Mrs. Comas came to him with a plan for their students to join in. “At the end of the day she said look what the kids did, it was amazing. And now we know they won an award so it’s pretty impressive. I want to thank Patti, but also on behalf of the staff we want to congratulate the kids,” Mr. Mochi said. He went on to talk about how every day each student performs acts of kindness in their own way; pointing out the one who “will absolutely keep an eye on all these guys for us. He goes and gets them when we need them.” Another always holds the door while another shows patience. Mr. Mochi said one student dances, another sings, and another student makes everyone laugh.
This exercise of kindness was a powerful lesson in empathy and sticktoitiveness — and it brought to the forefront a genuine understanding for everyone that we all have innate qualities to be heroes and brighten someone’s day.