As odd as it may seem, I don’t even know the name of the person whose act of quiet kindness changed the way I look at the world. It was nothing more than a chance encounter, but those few brief minutes will live with me forever, challenging me to be a little better than I think I can be. This person became my hero figure, someone whose actions I could model to become a better person.

A few years back, I was organizing a Christmas toy drive with help from my friends, for the Boys and Girl Harbor. The Boys and Girls Harbor is a home for school-aged children who, due to circumstances beyond their control, do not have any where else to live. Their parents may be in jail, or the children may have been taken away from their parents due to an unfit situation in their home. Typically, these children arrive at the Boys and Girls Harbor with just the clothes they are wearing, and nothing else.

I wanted to help these children have an enjoyable holiday season by collecting toys for them, and then holding a party where we could distribute the toys. My friends and I set up collection boxes around town, and my community was very supportive in donating toys for the children. However, the majority of the toys donated were for young children, and the Boys and Girls Harbor houses school age children through their senior year in high school.

We placed all the toys we collected on tables, and to make sure the older children got to select a toy that was suitable for their age, we let them go first. Once the high school students had selected gifts, we next let the junior school students select their gifts, and last we let the elementary school children choose a gift. While the younger children were looking through all the gifts, the older children were still in the room enjoying the cookies, cake and punch we had for them.

As the younger children excitedly explored the gifts on the tables. one little boy walked over to an older resident who appeared to be of high school age. He asked her where she had found the gift she was holding, as he wanted to get one just like it. She told the boy that the gift she had selected was the only one like it that she had seen. As the young boy returned to the tables to make his selection, the older girl looked down at the gift she was holding. It was clearly the one thing that she had most wanted from all the toys and gifts covering the tables. It was her perfect Christmas gift. As a hint of a smile formed on her face, she slowly walked over to the end table. Checking to be sure that the little boy was not watching, she slipped her gift underneath the pile of toys and quietly walked around the tables to where the boy was busy trying to choose just the right stuffed animal. I watched her as she bent down and whispered in his ear. He dropped the stuffed animal and went straight to the end table. The look on his face said it must have been a miracle that there was one more after all. By this time, the only toys left were for younger children, and this girl knew that. But she was generous enough to give the gift that she had wanted to someone else, to make them happy.

I was so impressed that this girl, who literally had nothing for herself, would be so benevolent as to give away the one gift she wanted. I thought, if this one girl who had so very little, could be so charitable, surely I, who have a loving home and many, many items, could do even more to help others. I’m sure this altruistic girl never realized the impact she had on my life, but she has shaped the way I treat others. She became my hero. Now that I am in high school, I’m involved in a number of community service organizations. One of my favorite projects is the weekly food distribution at the LaPorte Neighborhood Center. And I think about that generous girl and it reminds me that I can spend some of the money I’ve earned to sneak a few toys into the donated food bags we put together. Like my hero whose name I do not know, I hope to also put some joy into the life of a small boy or girl who might yearn for a little more than what they think they will be receiving.

This essay was submitted Kaitlyn Martin for the December 2010 – Scholarship. See and vote on your favorite essays here. If she wins, Kaitlyn would use the scholarship money to fund her upcoming college education.