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A whole CHANGE of emotions

January 15, 2005

Jeff Benson

Tracey Garfinkel still has trouble recounting what she heard about

the brutal assault two men inflicted upon her best friend.

He was beaten bloody and unconscious, his money and belongings

stolen. The men who attacked him were never caught.

Though her friend has partially recovered, he has permanent brain

damage, and the incident left Garfinkel feeling dissatisfied with

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the world, she said. When it became too much for the Mariners

Elementary School sixth-grade teacher to bear, she felt she had to

tell somebody.

So, she turned to her students.

Garfinkel said she broke down in tears as she retold the incident

to her class last month. Fifty-two young eyes were focused squarely

on her, and even some of her shyest students, who had never spoken in

class before, meekly tried to comfort her, she said. "I didn't know

where to draw the line between keeping it personal and seeing if they

could benefit somehow from me talking to them about it," she said. "I

thought maybe I could make a difference in their lives by telling

them."

And then everything fell into place.

Garfinkel sat down at home to watch "Oprah" on TV later that day,

as the daytime talk-show host asked people to mobilize for her

"Kindness Revolution." Oprah asked viewers to send letters and

videotapes describing their kind actions. Garfinkel returned to class

the following day and challenged her students to make a difference.

The 11- and 12-year-olds responded by creating their own movement

called "CHANGE" or "Children Hoping to Abolish Negativity and Promote

Generosity Everywhere."

"We've been thinking about her story a lot, and we've been trying

to go the extra length of doing nice things for our parents and

friends," Gigi Joseph, 12, said.

CHANGE's mission, Garfinkel said, is to empower the students to

perform random acts of kindness on their own, without being told to

and without expecting anything in return.

"We see so much violence in the world, and they, as children, have

the power to make a difference," she said. "I'm trying to teach,

through the program, that if you can be kind to others, you can truly

make a difference in the world."

The students each provided ways they could positively affect

others. Garfinkel said she took ideas from each student and compiled

them into a mission statement.

Students wrote essays about the importance of spreading kindness,

what they did to perpetuate the movement and how they felt about it.

And they created T-shirts with positive messages.

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