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Superintendents’ Forum: Simple Holiday Gifts Can Mean The Most

This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle: 

By: Marybeth Torchia, Boyertown Area School District Superintendent
Thursday, December 22, 2022

I love the holidays. I have fond memories from my childhood and the means to give material gifts to those I value and love the most. My husband provides an incredible Italian holiday feast for our family. Our children come home to celebrate with us. We can participate in holiday events and travel as we please. While it is true that there are empty seats at our table for loved ones who have moved on, I know they are with us in spirit and would want us to enjoy the season. I recognize how blessed I am, and the holidays bring me joy!

It is easy for me and others to take that for granted. It is easy to get wrapped up in “the most wonderful time of the year” and forget that it simply isn’t “wonderful” for many of us.

I have often expressed my focus on our current mental health crisis. Perhaps it is a loss of my own that brings it to the forefront for me this holiday season or the overwhelming amount of time educators devote to mental health care throughout our school days. Still, regardless of the reason, I am compelled to take on this issue once more.

During this holiday season, my focus is not on the crucial mental health professionals, hotline numbers, and government agencies available to assist. Instead, I am here to encourage all of us to give freely and generously of the gifts of a simpler time — the gifts that can heal a heart, change a perspective, create connections, and even prevent a tragedy yet cost so little.

As you go about your traditional holiday preparations, share a smile with a stranger. Regardless of where they are shopping or the holiday event they are attending, and despite all appearances, it may be exactly what they need. Hold the door. Say “please” and “thank you”. Pay a compliment. Offer the person in line behind you holding just one item the opportunity to go before you and your overflowing cart.

You will run into someone complaining about everything holiday-related while waiting in “the longest line ever” at the grocery store. Give them the gift of your compassionate ear. They need you at that moment.  Ask about their favorite part of the season if the opportunity presents itself. Even if the answer is Jan. 2, it may change their focus for the moment. If you have a suggestion or a way to offer hope, share it.  And despite their negativity, do not walk away without conveying your well-wishes.

If you are blessed with the gift of time, volunteering has the power to change lives, including your own, if you view it as a “get to,” not a “have to” choice.

Demonstrate joy for the time you are sharing with those who need help. Consider that those with little to give might teach us the most about generosity.  Be open to the possibility that your most significant gift this year may come from the most unlikely places or be handed to you by a dirty mitten with holes.

Acceptance demonstrated without judgment can be the rarest of gifts for those humble enough to accept charity and more precious than clean new mittens.

Big changes in mental health can happen in the smallest of moments and the simplest of ways. Those moments present themselves in even greater numbers during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  Share your gifts. Don’t save them for the holiday season; share them throughout the year. You may change a life forever.

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