Catholics believe that the first step in making a difference in the world is starting with oneself. Under the leadership of its new principal, Jonna Johnson, St. John the Baptist School in Alden has chosen to honor those students who have gone a step further to better their community through acts of selflessness and kindness to others.
As of December, Cody Captain, a seventh-grader, and Brandon Beal, Jacob Behrend and Kanton DeRoller, all fifth-graders, had received the "Let It Begin With Me" award.
"The 'Let It Begin With Me' award was one I decided to start when I became principal in July," Johnson said. "This is a really rich community. They support each other, there are extensive alumni that work here. It's very obvious that they value service and commitment to the community. I was trying to think of a way I could get kids to continue that appreciation."
Cody and Brandon received the inaugural awards after raising $500 selling produce at a local farmers' market, and then choosing to donate it all to their school. Jacob and Kanton received theirs on All Saints' Day for consistently being observed doing kind things for others.
Since both Cody and Brandon are active in the school's music and sports programs, half of the money went to each of these. The boys did it on their own volition, and were under no obligation to do so.
"They just showed up one day in my office with an envelope of money," Johnson said. "I sat down and talked with them, and said, 'This fits right in with what I've been saying. You really are going to help the community.'"
The school ended up using the money to buy new music stands, which it desperately needed.
Throughout their time as students at St. John the Baptist, various faculty and staff members observed that these boys were always the first to volunteer to hold doors, help out fellow students who are injured and assist with school Masses.
Since Jacob and Kanton received their awards on All Saints' Day, Johnson tied this in with the lives of the saints, who were ordinary people who started out by doing small things that led to greater things.
"Because of their actions, while they might seem small, they have really added to the overall well-being of our community. They're not tearing people down. They're not doing anything negative," Johnson said.
Additionally, Johnson, along with other members of the school community, have noticed that these boys do not do these things for the sake of being recognized.
"Never once have I seen these boys seek attention for the fact that they held the door, they picked up books that were dropped or they stacked chairs after lunch. They just do it because it's the right thing to do," she commented.
Johnson noted that for younger children, it is easier to do good when they are able to see something tangible associated with their actions, rather than in and of itself.
She spoke with children at the beginning of the school year about this idea, emphasizing the notion that any change or good in the world begins with ourselves.
"We don't have control over anyone else's actions but our own, and we can choose to be the good in the world. I think it goes back to the things that Mother Teresa said. You don't have to do huge things - you just have to do little things, do them with meaning and do them well," Johnson commented.