Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Making an impact one child at a time

by A.J. Hakim Staff Writer

December 13, 2012

The best line Jon Gordon has heard in describing Challenge Day is something along the lines of: it’s like a parent trying to decide which of his kids he likes best.

“They’re very different, but they’re similar,” said Gordon, one of two Challenge Day facilitators at Grosse Pointe North High School recently to conduct the two-day, national program. “That’s the coolest thing about our job is no matter where we’re at, we essentially say similar stuff — we said pretty much the same stuff we did yesterday — and it’s a totally different day. Every day is completely different.”

It’s that similar-but-different mechanic that ultimately drew North senior Francesca Ciaramitaro to the program each of the past three years. Because, despite the same, basic message of encouraging self-empowerment and acceptance and eliminating all forms of oppression, of being a source of positive change, there’s one element to the program that diversifies the experience each year.

“The same things come out of it, but it’s with different people, it’s a different experience and it’s just always nice to get that fresh perspective of how great we have it,” Ciaramitaro said. “I come back because I love it and I love seeing all these kids here having their perspectives changed. It’s indescribable. You can’t understand it until you go, until you’re here and you see everyone, until you see what they go through.

“You walk through the halls and you have no idea what kids go through, and you come here and everyone just lets their guard down. It’s the most amazing thing.”

Through the variety of games, trust-building activities and presentations and amid the high fives, the jokes, the laughs, the tears, is a connection students make in themselves and with others. It’s a personal push toward acceptance and commitment to becoming a positive role model at North and in the community.

For the week or so after a majority of students undergo a transformation, a “Challenge Day High,” as Ciaramitaro calls it, in which they feel a profound sense of duty to their classmates. In most, it eventually subsides. But, Ciaramitaro said, if only a few students maintain that sense of duty, the program has accomplished its goal.

“If we changed the lives of one or two kids that day, that’s all that matters,” Ciaramitaro said. “There’s kids like Sean O’Melia that go out and make it their mission to spread that throughout the school, and when they reach those kinds of kids, that’s how they get to everyone else. They reach a few kids every year and those kids become influential in our school and it’s amazing to see.”