Everything She Had

Ann Wenger
Iowa, USA

Everything She Had

She walked into my classroom on a chilly Monday morning in December. There were only three weeks left in the semester, but it took her less than five days to teach me the lesson of a lifetime. Jeanie, an 18-year-old senior in high school, had the reading and writing skills of a third grader and the social and emotional development of a second grade student.

Jeanie had been abandoned by her parents and severely abused by the person who took her into his home. Her history was spotty, so we really did not know how long, what type, or how severely she had been abused before she was taken into protective custody. Jeanie had been placed in our local county care facility, which was located in our school district.

It was less than two weeks to Christmas when Jeanie arrived. Her only possessions were a bright red hair tie, two pairs of pants, one short skirt, three thin, short-sleeved blouses, a pair of sandals, and a lightweight jacket. She had no school bag, very few school supplies, and very little money — maybe $5.

Each year, I share some Christmas cookies or candy with my kids, but I never expect nor ask for anything in return. To me, it is a gift to work with my kids on a daily basis and watch them grow from gangly youth into wonderful young adults.

At Christmas time, I choose a family of one of my less fortunate students to “adopt” for Christmas. I anonymously give them several gifts: from things they need like soap and socks, to things they want but can’t have because of lack of money, like a toy or a CD. This year, Jeanie was my “adopted family”.

I found several pair of jeans, a warm jacket, personal care items, warm shirts, and shoes for her. I don’t know if she knows who put all the presents under the tree at the county home with her name on them, but I hope she never does. I don’t do it for recognition, I do it because I

On the last day of school before Christmas break began, Jeanie gave me the only gift I got from my students. She came bouncing into the classroom with a huge smile on her face and gave me a very small, tissue-wrapped present. Beaming with pride, she wished me a Merry Christmas. I thanked her and set it aside, thinking I’d open it later. She insisted I open it, so I did. Inside, I found several pieces of candy. She had made each of her teachers a present just like it.

After she left my classroom that day, I sat down and cried. I realized the true value of her gift. It didn’t seem like much, but for Jeanie, it was everything she had.

Originally published as HeroicStories #692 on Feb 17, 2007

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