April 26, 1999
Connor Gracia, shown here with Deacon Terry Marcell, spent his eighth birthday at the First Avenue Service Center in Seattle where he visited with homeless people and donated his year's savings to the center.
by Deborah Stone, features writer
Most young children picture celebrating their birthdays among friends and family, eating cake and opening presents. Eight-year-old Connor Gracia's birthday vision was quite different and atypical for a child of his age, or any age, for that matter.
Instead of going to school on his birthday, he asked his mother take him to a homeless shelter so that he could donate his money to help people in need. Each year, Connor saves his money in a can to give to homeless and poor people. In the past, he has given it directly into the hands of the homeless on the streets when he has gone into the city, but this year he decided to make his donation in a different manner.
"Connor learned about shelters and how they help many people by giving them a hot meal, a place to wash up, and a bed to sleep in," Jo Gracia, Connor's mother, said. "I explained to him that money donated can go a long way at a shelter and is sometimes better than putting it into the hands of the people directly. He became very interested in going to visit a shelter and talking to the people and asked that I take him to one for his birthday.
"I've always had a tradition of letting him choose how he wants to spend his birthday each year, and usually he's wanted to go to a baseball game or a special movie, or something like that. This year, his request was quite different. It surprised me, even though I know that he has a caring nature."
According to Gracia, Connor is a sensitive boy who thinks about people and asks about their well-being. "He prays for homeless people at night and worries about them being on the streets without a place to live. He's very compassionate," his mother said.
Gracia and her son went to the First Avenue Service Center in Seattle and spent several hours talking to the people. Connor had saved $13, and his mother matched that amount, so he was able to give a total of $26 to the Center.
"He wanted to donate more," Gracia said, "and told one of the men there that he wished he had lots more money to give. The man, who was homeless, told him that it meant more to him that Connor was there talking to him, playing cards with him, and spending time with him. It made me cry to hear their conversation. That message was very important for Connor to understand."
Connor was definitely moved by his experience at the shelter and hopes to return in the near future."It felt good to help and I know that the money I gave will buy food and clothes for the people," he said. "But there are lots and lots of people who need help and they also need someone to talk to. They are nice people. I got to play Scrabble and cards with them and I ate lunch with them, too. They're real people, you know."
Connor will continue to save pennies and nickels from his allowance and other monetary gifts he receives, but he knows now that money isn't everything when it comes to helping others.