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If you ever want to find someone who is making a difference in the world, look no further than a devoted teacher. Teachers are often heroes among us, helping to shape the young lives who are entrusted to their care.
One such teacher is Ed Gray, who is using his passion for serving his community to help inspire the next generation to make a difference. Along with dedicated students from The City School in Los Angeles, Gray will be showcased in the Friday, August 17 “WE Day Special” on ABC.
Gray is an educator who moved to California three years ago to teach 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in West Los Angeles. While teaching middle school is very challenging on its own, Gray also wanted to inspire his students to “commit to paying attention to issues that surround us every day” and find ways to help others.
However, one particular moment made Gray realize he could use a little help with motivating his students to serve their community. During one of Gray’s first projects, which involved cleaning up trash by a Los Angeles freeway, one of his students asked, “Why are we doing this? This is what my maid is for.” At that point, Gray decided to take a different approach and reached out to WE, an organization dedicated to “making doing good doable” by supporting Americans who want to make a real impact in their communities and around the world. With their support, he started a WE club that would be led by the students themselves, allowing them to choose their own projects.
“My job has just been to give [students] a space to explore ways to help, and be there for them as they shape their projects,” Gray tells Babble.
The club now includes nearly 50 students who have volunteered their time at places such as a local animal shelter and a retirement home. They’ve also organized a project to encourage recycling at their school and throughout their community.
The experience of helping others, Gray says, is even more impactful when the kids are able to meet the people they are affecting.
“When we do events like a Thanksgiving breakfast where students get to sit down with people who are in need, they come away with a different perspective,” he says. “They are able to see a real face behind the stereotype, and gradually, things change.”
Gray, who is no stranger to organizing service clubs, says that this particular club has really yielded some amazing results.
“I have been facilitating service clubs at various schools for 20 years, so when we connected with WE it was a natural fit,” he says. “It’s really the resources they offer: the free speakers, the project ideas, the workshops … These are the things that help you take it to the next level, and we certainly have.”
Gray’s two daughters, Sage and Kaya, who are participants in the WE club, feel that although they are young, they are plenty capable of making a difference.
“I want other people to know that even picking up one piece of trash or giving food to one person in need can make a big difference and that your voice does matter,” says 12-year-old Sage, who is obviously wise beyond her years.
The fact is, sometimes the little things can end up meaning the most to another person, and can make you feel pretty good too, as 13-year-old Kaya can attest to.
“I feel really good when I help others,” Kaya tells Babble. “It makes me feel like I can motivate others to help too.”
Kaya wants other young people to know that they don’t need to be afraid to help others.
“If you want to help people, just do it,” she says. “Don’t feel confined to just your school; open your arms to other people in your community and you can make a big change.”
“WE Day” is a celebration of “next level doing good.” It honors youth and families across the country who are making a difference in their communities and features a star-studded lineup of musicians and celebrities, including host John Stamos, Jennifer Aniston, Dierks Bentley, The Chainsmokers, Will Ferrell, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Cyndi Lauper, JD McCrary, Dr. Phil, Martin Sheen, Lilly Singh, Founders of the #NeverAgain movement and organizers of The March for our Lives Jaclyn Corin and Cameron Kasky, and more. The special is sponsored by title partner Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young as well as presenting partners Walgreens and Microsoft.
Gray says that being featured on the “WE Day” special has been “humbling,” but has taught his students something else as well.
“We not only learned there are a lot of people like us, but also that it is okay to celebrate your accomplishments,” he says. “You know, being humble sometimes means it’s hard to talk about your good deeds, but having ‘WE Day’ as a platform for the students to take a little something back was amazing.”
Gray is also excited for what’s to come.
“Honestly, I feel like we are still just getting started,” he says.
We also can’t wait to see what these inspiring young people and their devoted teacher will do next!
The “We Day Special” airs August 17 on ABC at 8 PM EST/7 PM CT.