Smart Mouths and Big Hearts

Carrie Tinsley

Teenagers get a bad rap these days. They’re selfish, have smart mouths, and can’t look up from their phones long enough to make eye contact.

But I’m here to report, given the chance, teenagers can have the biggest hearts and bring you to tears with their selflessness. Don’t believe the bad hype. I’ve seen their goodness with my own two eyes.

As a high school teacher, I led our school’s National Honor Society, a group of students with the best goal: they were charged with being excellent scholars AND community servants. Some schools don’t take the service aspect of NHS seriously, but we did.

Each November, we held a community-wide yard sale whose purpose was to raise money for our school’s Benevolence Fund. When students needed help, this fund made sure they had clothes, food, glasses, a safe place to stay, whatever our students needed. At the yard sale, we never put prices on anything. People shopped, and we asked them to donate whatever they deemed appropriate. Our customers were unbelievably generous, especially when they found out why we were raising money. My students hauled things to customers’ cars, gave them hot chocolate, and created a kids’ corner where they babysat children whose parents were shopping.

As word got out, teachers from other schools called with stories of people who had fallen on hard times, asking if the families could shop for free. I asked if the NHS students felt comfortable with that, and every single one of them voted to help these families.

One year, a family came to shop for free as we had previously arranged, but something told me we needed to do more. A young woman named Holly (not her real name) showed up with five children, from age 14 down to a baby. I watched how carefully Holly chose a small number of necessities: people’s used towels and pillows, a set of sheets, some mismatched dishes, a small stuffed animal for the baby.

I pulled Holly aside and introduced myself. She told me their story, and it was hard to hear. I had never had a conversation like this, had never offered help to someone face-to-face, but before I could think too much, out came this: The NHS kids and I want to help. Christmas is only a few weeks away. Can we give your family a Christmas?

Holly burst into quiet sobs. I held her hand and tasked her with finding out what her children wanted for Christmas. The National Honor Society was going to play Santa Claus.

Holly called with her list the next week. Humble again, she asked only for necessities and gave me sizes for each child, listing two or three small toys for the little kids. She was trying not to ask for too much.

What are their big wishes? If money were no object, what would they ask for? The words were out again before I knew what I was saying. But Christmas is magic, and Christmas…is giving.

Holly called the next day with the Money-Is-No-Object List, and we set to work. The NHS students decided that teams were the best. We had teams for Holly and her husband and each of the five children. I’ve never seen high school students so excited to give.

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My classroom became the center for this family’s Christmas and for four weeks, my NHS kids poured in with gifts they had carefully shopped for and purchased themselves. Most used their money from after-school jobs to buy these items, and I got the front row seat to see their shining faces come in with unwrapped gifts and watch as the pile grew and grew.

And it was time to ask for the big, expensive gifts. An iPod, a weight bench, an electric guitar, a bicycle, a trampoline.

At our late November meeting, I stood in front of these students to ask if this was possible. I assured them that Holly’s family was already getting an amazing Christmas because of the 100 young men and women in that room. We didn’t have to do anything else. And then…magic happened.

I have a weight bench in my garage that we never use.

Mrs. Tinsley, my parents bought me a new iPod. I’d be happy to give my old one to that kid.

My niece has outgrown her bicycle, and it’s in great shape. I’ll ask her parents if we can give it to Holly’s daughter.

I’ll be honest, Mrs. T. My parents bought me an electric guitar two years ago, and I’ve played it maybe twice. I’m happy to give it to Ms. Holly’s son.

We don’t use our trampoline anymore, Mrs. Tinsley. They can have it!

I burst into ugly tears, and the whole 101 of us gathered together for a group hug. I wasn’t the only one crying.

Later, we found out that the trampoline wasn’t in great shape. I asked our faculty if anyone had a trampoline they could donate, and my school’s generous coaches pooled together and bought Holly’s family a brand new trampoline.

On delivery day, Holly’s husband took their children out for ice cream, and a team of eight of Santa’s elves charged into their tiny house with the biggest, most beautiful Christmas they had ever seen. Holly’s face shone with tears, gratitude, and shock that we’d pulled it all off. We were shocked ourselves. We hugged her, wished her the merriest of Christmases, and were out of there quick as a wink, just like Santa.

Those 100 young men and women were teenagers, high school students, and some of them probably had to scrape money together to buy a stranger a gift. Sometimes the world rolls its collective eyes at teenagers, and sometimes they deserve it. However, when given the chance, teenagers can be the best givers in the world. Just ask me. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.



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Teenagers get a bad rap. They’re selfish, have smart mouths, and can’t look up from their phones to make eye contact, but this isn't always the case.

Smart Mouths and Big Hearts was written by Carrie Tinsley exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.

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Carrie Tinsley is a Southern girl, a recovering English teacher, the wife of a very patient man, and the mother of three kids, a dog and a cat. She blogs about everything from parenting misadventures to teaching to poor attempts at housekeeping and DIY at Carrie On Y'all.