Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.'' Fourth- and fifth-graders on both sides of Tampa Bay are fulfilling the promise of his wisdom in their own unique ways.
Random Acts of Kindness
Ten-year-old Lily Uline ran for president of her fourth-grade class at Safety Harbor Elementary earlier this year. While other candidates lean toward issues such as soda machines and less homework, Uline went a different way. Her platform? Make Kindness Count.
What would possess a kid to shake off self-interest and go for the greater good? Her mother.
Jodi Uline is raising four kids as a single mom. This past Christmas, she gave each one $250 with a caveat: Use the money to do something good for others. They had 10 days to fulfill the mission.
"I have four kids and they're all three years apart: 10, 13, 15 and 18,'' explains Uline. "The money was part of their Christmas present. They had to keep every receipt and document how they gave it out. And at the end we all sat down and they explained the ideas they used and how it felt giving out the money.
"One bought a cup of coffee for someone behind them at Starbucks,'' she continues. "Another was at a restaurant and bought someone else's meal. And they realized they loved giving. They got more out of giving than the person who actually got it.''
The exercise especially inspired her youngest, Lily, who gave her money to her school crossing guards.
Spreading Joy In Social Media
"They all enjoyed it. Just a little bit of kindness, like, made their day,'' Lily says. With her birthday coming up in February, Lily asked for more money to continue the kindness. Mom did her one better. She helped her daughter create a Facebook page that promotes random acts of kindness.
"It's had a tremendous effect,'' says Uline. "We're just amazed.''
"Some people I know,'' shares Lily. "But some I don't. They come to my page because someone will tell them and they follow us. I've met a lot of people.''
In addition to links to like-minded entities such as the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, the Facebook page features videos Lily records and uploads each week. Each video illustrates an idea for showing kindness. Harmony Home Care has shared one of them on its site to attract would-be caregivers.
Facebook visitors can also share their own ideas for making someone's day. "I like the one where a person filled up gas for someone who couldn't get out of their car,'' says Lily.
But the young philanthropist didn't stop with Facebook. She collaborated with a company called ReThink to design business cards with her slogan. She shares a card with nearly everyone she meets, encouraging them to do something nice for someone else. A sentence on the back of the card instructs the recipient to perform an act of kindness, and leave the card at their scene of civility to encourage the next person to pay it forward.
"It makes me feel good to do for others because it's about how it makes them feel. If someone does something nice for me, I feel so good about it, even if they just gave me a dollar for something. And if I do it to them back, they must feel really good. I mean, it's like someone cares about them. I'm gonna do as much as possible for as long as I can.''
Little Kids Rock
On the Tampa side of the Bay water, five Canella Elementary students prepare to take the stage in front of friends and family at a neighborhood restaurant on Himes Avenue. It's their band's second public performance.
But if you're expecting the screeching sounds of brass instruments in fumbling fingers, forget about it. These kids can really rock.
Arranged on a makeshift stage are a set of mics, keyboard, guitar and bass backed by a full drum kit. The outdoor house is SRO. The air expectant.
Juan Rios, Canella's music teacher, hustles among the waiting crowd greeting people, checking cables and measuring sound levels. For a brief moment, he stops to chat.
"We've been together since September,'' Rios explains. We've only performed once before — a Christmas program in December. We started putting this set together in January. We rehearse every Friday for one hour after school. And they practice on their own at home.''
Rios' band is the product of a program called Little Kids Rock, a resource for music teachers that provides a free, fully loaded modern band program to kids in underserved school districts.
"It's a great foundation. When you go through the training they give you everything you need to use for the students -- the instruments and curriculum. Everything is free.
"The program started with an ideal,'' Rios continues. "People were calling music programs irrelevant. The founder [David Wish] said that can't happen. So he started Little Kids Rock and just went all the way. The program -- it's relevant to the kids. We play songs from '80s, '90s and now. They can relate to them.''
Picking Band Members
Rios chose six kids from his fourth- and fifth-grade music classes to form the band. However, this gig only features five due to the sixth member's schedule conflict.
Cables laid, instruments tuned and mics hot, the band makes its entrance to whistles, hoots and applause.
The set opens with a cover of Katrina and the Waves' "Walkin' on Sunshine,'' followed by covers of Katy Perry's Roar and the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army, along with an "True Thing,'' an original written by the band's Lead Singer 11-year-old Lissette Rocha-Permentermi.
Permentermi's smooth vocals sail over the band's pumping synchronicity. She's sometimes joined on the mic by bass player Emma Yepes, 10 years old, who adds a bluesy growl to the vocals.
Gavin Martinez, age 11, is on lead guitar for the evening, filling in for his missing band member. He periodically takes over the drumsticks for Nathael "Nate'' Santana, age 10, who spends most of the gig behind the kit. Eleven-year-old Karla Oramas handles the keyboard, her expert fingers providing both melody and counterpoint in turn.
At the end of the set, the crowd demands an encore. "Can we do the whole thing again?'' Rocha-Permentermi pleads. Rios agrees and it's on. Again. The band's confidence and flair levels appear to jump about three notches throughout the repeat performance.
After the concert, band members sit down to discuss their music and goals.
Everyone at the table agrees that being in a band is awesome. "This is my first time in a band and I feel great,''says Yepes, the band’s only fourth-grader. "Mr. Rios said there was an opening in this band and asked me if I wanted to join. I said, 'Hecks, yeah, I want to be in a band'.''
Family Matters: Genes Plus Environment
Nearly everyone has a family member who plays.
Rocha- Permentermi, who plays guitar as well as sings, says, "My dad and my stepdad are very musical and they both play guitar. And my dad is a very good singer. He's always helped me with my singing. And I like playing guitar because, I don't know. My stepdad taught me to play and I like it a lot.''
Santana adds: "My dad introduced me to drums. Our whole family plays percussion. My dad has been teaching me since I was three years old.''
Martinez says, "My dad’s uncle and brother were in a band together. His uncle played the drums. So he taught me. And my dad can play a little bit. So I just got it from them over the years.''
"It's kind of the same thing for me,'' Yepes adds. "My uncle is in a band and he plays bass.''
So how does it feel to play live?
"My ears get red hot when I perform,'' says Yepes. "I'm not ashamed of it now but during the Christmas concert, I cried because I didn't know a song. I relied on the paper. I didn't rely on myself. And I should have. I learn from mistakes. That's what my dad says.''
"I was nervous, too,'' shares Santana. "I don’t know if you could tell, but my arms always shake.''
"It was scary at first,'' says Rocha-Permentermi. "Because I was like, shy at first. Once we started playing a few songs I started getting into it and stuff. I get nervous every time I'm about to perform. And then I get into it at the very end.''
Rocha-Permentermi wrote "True Thing'' as part of an eight-week songwriting symposium. "I was selected for the symposium with like 20 kids in Hillsborough County. We started out with these bull's eyes and five words we picked. And we kept making the bull's eye smaller and smaller using those keywords to write a whole song. We got to record it at a real recording studio. And then we got to perform at a concert and all our parents and friends came. It was really fun.''
Missy Kavanaugh-Carryer a freelance writer based in Safety Harbor, FL, enjoys writing children's books, helping children and adults reach their creative potential and kayaking the waterways that surround the Tampa Bay region. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.