The Counsellor's Corner
Last year around this time, I was fortunate enough to have the honor of speaking as part of the first annual Successful Leaders from our Community Speaker Program at the Euclid Avenue Grade School and Magnet School in Los Angeles. This school has been around since the 1940s and it's student body is largely Latino.
When I was contacted by program organizer and financial planner, Sam Rennick, and was asked whether or not I wanted to participate again this year, I jumped at the opportunity.
Numerous speakers have been lined up, including actors, doctors, and policemen, and the goal is to help motivate these children to overcome their surroundings and let them know that a successful career and life is out there just waiting for them if they apply themselves.
The topic I was asked to speak on this year was "It's Better to Give Than To Receive." After my half hour of interacting with the youngsters, I made them an offer that I hoped would motivate them. I asked each student to give something to someone else; either a friend in school or someone else they knew, and then write about it and hand in the essays to Mr. Rennick who would then give them to me. My goal, of course, was to have these children experience giving and the tremendous benefits derived from giving in that the receiver feels good about getting the gift, and the giver feels even better for contributing to the happiness of another.
Mr. Rennick told me not to get my hopes up as I might get ten or 15 responses, and we were both astounded by the fact that of the 150 children to whom I spoke, 54 took the time to write on the subject. One of the best was from Sonia Magallo who gave a teddy bear to her best friend, Jeanette Sanchez. She wrote: "I gave that teddy bear to her because that meant a lot to me, because when I was 3 or 4 years old my favorite aunt gave me that teddy bear but the sad part is that the next day she died. That's why I gave it to Jeanette so that she knows that our friendship means a lot to me. I felt very proud of me because I knew that my aunt would have been proud of me, too..." Kids do say the darndest things.
A lot of the gifts were pens, pencils, and lollipops. As Katina Dominguez said about her experience with giving: "It felt very nice because giving is so cool, you give that person all your friendship. I also think that giving is much better than receiving."
One of the sweetest letters came from Idaelia Preciado who gave a purse to her friend Monica. She gave the purse to Monica because "she is nice with me and I like the purse a lot, so I said to myself, if I like a thing I am going to give it to someone that is very gentle with me. Monica is an excellent person that I like as my friend. When I gave her the purse I felt happy because it made her happy, and I like to see her happy and smile. This is a good memory for me, I will not forget that memory."
Perhaps the most touching letter was written by Eliaa Ledesma, who wrote, "My friend has cancer and she can't do so many things considering her condition. I go to the gym and she doesn't because she's afraid of her condition. For Valentine's Day I gave her a card and I felt like crying, because maybe that was going to be our last Valentine's Day together. She made me see the meaning of Valentine's Day. I can't tell you what I felt." Natalie Soto pointed out in her essay that "if you give something to someone expecting something in return, forget it, it's not worth it. Soledad Lejis wrote about her experience receiving a gift from her friend, Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez, as she received a picture of Winnie the Pooh. Soledad's view was that, "her gift was special because she made it from her own hands." Diego Ramirez found gift giving so rewarding that he plans to keep doing it. "It felt kind of cool like when you give somebody something; the look in their faces makes you feel better. After I gave the present, I wanted to give somebody another present because I wanted that feeling again. I learned that giving is better than receiving, for when you receive you don't get that feeling that you get when you give." I think Diego has a bright future.
Albert Ruiz gave perhaps the most exotic gift in that he gave his best friends an elephant. "I gave them this because it was mine for six years, and it was in my bedroom, and it means a lot to me because my mom gave it to me when I was four years old." Albert didn't expound on the nature of the elephant, but I am going to assume and hope it was of the stuffed animal variety. Albert gave this gift to his best friends, Abel and George, and in return he got a pencil with an eraser as Abel, hopefully gently, told him that "I always lose my pencils and here is the eraser because I make a lot of errors."
A personal touch was provided by Lisa Licca. Lisa took matters into her own hands and made cookies for her 5th grade class. "I went to the store to buy all the materials I needed to make the cookies. When I got home I started baking right away. I felt wonderful inside to give the whole class something they all like."
Then there was a touching letter from Izamarie Hernandez. She gave her friend, Hortencia, a ring and indicated, "I feel better than when I receive. I just don't know why - I feel so proud. Maybe because I'm making Hortencia love me more. And when I give her gifts I show her I love her. When I saw her happy I knew I was doing something good." On the receiving end, Sarai Ramirez indicated she enjoyed receiving her gift because it tells her that her friends "like me for who I am inside, not how I look. I feel loved and cared about." Then there was the gift from Gustavo Arias to his teacher, Ms. Dienes - he gave her an iguana. Hmmm. One of the more creative gifts was from Valerie Najera to her friend, Jeannine Galvan. She gave Jeannine a bag with gum in it. "I chose to give her that gift because she is always chewing gum and the bag is shaped like a gym bag, and she likes those kinds of bags."
I received a mixed message from Edgar Collazos. He gave his friend, Alejandra, a Dr. Pepper and a box of mini chocolates, and he received a car transformer from his friend, Irving. His conclusion from all of this was: "From that day I realized that it is better to give than to receive. But it is also better to receive than to give." Victoria Garcia offered a keen insight into the giving-receiving and indicating, that "humor may be a present, so when my brothers and sisters, friends and cousins, etc. are sad I know that their relief is a little or a big joke." She goes on to say that, "almost each Sunday, I give money to the poor. Even if they don't know who I am, they are appreciating that."
Julio Rodriquez is a 5th grader with his eyes on an active social life as he concluded, "You should feel glad when you receive a gift. I feel even better when it's from a very special girl."
Ten-year-old Victor Gonzales also seems to be getting an early jump on his social endeavors. He bought a doll for his friend, Elizabeth. "I felt happy that I gave a present to a girl. She was a happy little girl. I was a very happy little boy."
Alfred Rubalcava seems to have an unlimited future: "I gave my family love because they gave me love first. My family is the one and only thing that I will always have in my life. They supported me to be the best that I can be. Me and my family are givers, we give money and toys and clothes to charity and the poor." Anahi Banda reported that, "giving is better than receiving because when you give there is a smile on someone's face which makes the Earth a happier place."
Alex Sanchez also has the right idea: "One day I gave some of my old clothes to a family who came from Mexico. When I gave the clothes to the Ramirez family, they told me that they were thankful to me. Then I told them that when I have more, I will give it to them. When I told that to them, I could see through their eyes how thankful they were. When I gave the clothes to them, I felt proud of myself and happy and peaceful because I was helping someone that I didn't know." Jason Aguilar, after donating clothes that almost got thrown away, concluded that, "probably a needy kid got them and used them and felt happy. You get a happy feeling when you give and for some reason you feel the feeling in your stomach. You could only get that feeling when giving. It's a feeling that you know you helped someone." Perhaps young Anna Fonseca summed it up best when she said, "It is true that it is better to give than receive because it helps you to be a better person when you grow up."
Kids, I would like to mention all of you in this column however I am out of room. For those of you who didn't get mentioned, please remember that what you did is just as important as what was done by anyone else. Keep giving!
The school may have thought I was giving the day I spoke, however receiving all of these letters from these wonderful children leads me to feel that I received far more than I gave.
The older I get the more important it is to me to give rather than receive. That feeling you get when you give just can't be replaced and it can't be taken away.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.