Students at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs have a message for the world.
You want to change it? Just remember it all starts with “the one.”
I had the pleasure of traveling from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to Utah Valley earlier this month to participate in Westlake’s third annual Christmas Jars fundraiser. I knew I’d be teaching an assembly on the origin of the Christmas Jars movement, but I had no idea that I’d be the one learning the biggest lesson of all.
The magic of Westlake High School and its fundraising efforts is that it all started with a single jar. Several years ago, Family, Career and Community Leaders of America adviser and teacher Candace Wilson received a Christmas Jar. That inspired Wilson and another teacher to organize a fundraiser at the 2010 holiday choir concert. Students and their families raised $800 for the local Sub for Santa program.
In 2011, bursting a mixture of leadership skills and Christmas spirit, Westlake FCCLA Chapter president ShayLyn Stubbs and other members placed a Christmas Jar in every classroom. Students and teachers raised $2,300.
In 2012, students and advisers began planning during the toasty summer months, long before school started. They’d become concerned about the number of traffic accidents involving members of the Westlake family and wanted to raise both money and awareness for traffic safety.
When classes resumed, they again placed jars in every classroom and turned the operation into a contest, offering a gourmet meal to the winning class and organizing a final night to cap the campaign. They invited local agencies, businesses and the community to spend the evening together raising money for families affected by traffic tragedies.
I was honored that they invited me to play a small role in their exciting day.
After speaking to the student body during the afternoon, I spent time with members of the FCCLA getting to know them and chatting about their countless hours of work to make the day possible. During a lull in the conversation, Wilson looked across the room at the students she loves like her own children and whispered, “If we save one life with our efforts, it will all be worth it."
The evening was a rousing success. The event raised $3,000 — a new record — and members of the FCCLA beamed all night long.
On a personal note, I cannot recall ever having more fun at a book signing. I stayed at the school long past the end of the event, visiting with the students, taking pictures and laughing until we were practically chased from the gymnasium by janitors.
The results of the fundraiser are goosebump worthy. The FCCLA reports that four local families received $500 each. Another girl recovering from a recent accident received $200. The Emilie Parker Fund was sent $200, a family was presented with $125 in gifts and the United Way was sent the balance of $450.
After returning home I learned that members of the FCCLA weren’t done. Some had their own family jars they were giving away, one at a time.
All this, because years ago an anonymous family gave one Christmas Jar to another family in need.
I’ve reflected on this trip often as the calendar pages tick their way to 2013. I do so many events each year that often they blend together and become one very pleasant memory. Perhaps sometimes I forget that each event, each personal interaction and every single jar should stand alone.
If my trip to Westlake High School had been my only event of the year, it would have been enough. If the Christmas Jars presented to the families impacted by traffic accidents had been the only ones given away in the entire world, that would have been more than enough.
And if the efforts of these inspiring members of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America save one life, their hard work is worth every single jar that’s ever been filled.
Yet, somehow, I know it won't end here. Others will start jars and other schools will follow Westlake's example and launch their own similar fundraisers.
This Christmas, I am grateful to the students and faculty of Westlake High School for teaching me one of the most valuable lessons of the year.
Making a difference is all about “the one” we love, “the one” we serve and “the one” we just might save.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.