Students at Lodi High School were given a challenge Tuesday morning to make a difference in the world during an assembly that they knew nothing about until that day.
Megan Woods, a Lodi High School senior and member of the student government class, organized the event and kept its content a secret so the entire campus would be surprised Tuesday morning.
Her final product, with the help of her organization team, was to bring guest speaker Gary Joe Xavier to the school, where he issued a charity challenge to students: Collect at least 2,500 pairs of shoes and 2,000 jackets in 15 days. The donations will be given to those less fortunate around the world.
Xavier works with Think Kindness, a nonprofit organization that inspires acts of kindness in schools and communities worldwide.
Woods said the work to bring Xavier to campus began a month ago, when student government teacher Tammy Boschee learned of Think Kindness.
Boschee presented the idea to her class, and Woods took charge.
“I just felt we needed to do something for our community,” Woods said, adding that Xavier helped her throughout the whole process.
Xavier is a third-degree black belt in taekwondo and a former U.S. Marine who trained as a sniper. He used his experiences in both the Marines and martial arts to demonstrate teamwork and kindness to students during Tuesday’s assembly.
One example came during the Iraq War, Xavier said, when his unit was sent into the middle of that nation to locate families and provide them with food, water and medical care. His unit was also sent on a relief mission to Indonesia after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries.
He said those experiences taught him two things.
“One is that small things have the ability to shift worlds,” he said. “All you have to do is remind people how much they matter. Second, if you’re going to live and be alive, then live for other people.”
Xavier then presented a “CBS Evening News” clip about Olivet Middle School in Olivet, Mich. The clip describes how the school’s football players secretly planned a game-time play without their coaches,’ parents’ or teachers’ knowledge.
The players decided to get as close to the end zone without scoring, even in if it meant taking a dive on the 1-yard line, which they did.
Spectators booed, but the team brought a learning-disabled student who loved football onto the field and helped him score a touchdown.
Team members admitted they used to be people who only cared about themselves, but the play turned them into people who began caring about everyone.
While the Olivet students were not high school students, Xavier said Lodi High students are no different when it comes to helping others.
“High school students have this amazing ability to just ‘switch’ and care about others,” he said. “It’s a natural human ability, and humans want to take care of other people.”
After the video, Xavier then issued the jacket and shoes collection challenge to students.
He then challenged selected students to smash bricks as a symbol of determination toward their kindness goal.
The student body cheered as the assembly concluded and students were ushered back to class.
Woods said she could not have organized the assembly without Xavier’s help, as well as the aid of the classmates on her team.
She said it was difficult keeping the assembly’s message under wraps for a month, but her team supported her through the entire process.
“I know (the presentation) is going to make the school focus on this challenge, and I just know we’re going to get this done,” she said.
Xavier said he plans to return to Lodi in 15 days to help collect the school’s donations and ready them for distribution.
He said he jumped at the chance to come to Lodi after Woods related the community’s response to the Oct. 22 crash at Ham Lane and Vine Street that killed six members of a Lodi family.
“I really wanted to come here when I heard about the Miranda family,” he said. “It was very tragic, and it blew my mind when I heard how the community was coming together in support to do something for the relatives.”
Xavier mentioned the Miranda family in his presentation, and said he was moved when the mood changed from excited and energized to somber and reflective.
“Everyone here knows what happened, and they’ve all come out to help this family,” he said. “I think a town like this has the potential to do (this challenge).”
For more information, visit www.thinkkindness.org.