November 26, 2001
Youngsters learn about 'the power of kindness'
by Lisa Allen
Valley View Editor
CARNATION - Debbie Walter knows that kids will listen if the subject is something they can relate to. Like teasing and being teased. And the importance of others' feelings and how we feel when we are hurt. And the fact that, although we are "all so very different, we are so much alike."
Walter, 35, is the type of person who could turn a lemon into a couple hundred gallons of lemonade. And, in a way, she has done just that in her own life.
An exuberant speaker, she delivers a powerful message of love and kindness that stems from her own traumatic childhood experience. That childhood torment, she tells youngsters, was changed into a wonderful memory because of an act of kindness by another. And, because children can empathize with what happened to her, they can learn they, too, have the power to make positive differences in other people's lives.
Walter, a Fall City native, now a resident of Kirkland, has shared her message at 30 area schools over the past year and a half.
Speaking to students recently at Carnation Elementary, she emphasized how small acts of kindness can be very powerful to others.
"We are all different on the outside," she tells youngsters. "Our hair, our bodies, our skin color, the way we speak, are all different ‹ that's how we tell each other apart. But inside, we are all so very alike. We want friends and need to be treated with kindness."
Walter asked the students how many had been teased. Almost all raised their hands. And when she asked how many had teased others ‹ they were honest ‹ almost the same number admitted they had.
Walter then reminds the youngsters they have choices in how they behave and that people remember others who have been kind to them.
"Choices we make every day have a huge impact," she says. "If someone does something good for someone else, then the other feels pretty good and goes on to do something good for another."
She tells them of her travels, that often she meets people who speak a different language, but that "I won't forget them because of their kindness. It's a cool thing. It's not the big things so much, but the little things we can do on an everyday basis that make a difference. It's like a gift of gold."
Then she tells them what happened to her as a child and how her story came to be published in the "Fourth Course of the Chicken Soup for the Soul."
"Looking at my hair now," she says. "You couldn't tell that I grew up bald."
Amidst groans from the students, she explains that at six years of age, her hair started to fall out. By the time she was 13, she was completely bald.
"I had to wear a wig," she says. "I learned later that I suffered from Alopecia, a condition that makes hair fall out. Fortunately, when I was 16, it began to grow back. But not before a very embarrasing incident."
When she was a teenager, she tells them, she went to a skate party with friends, one of which was David Lane, a 15-year-old who she particularly liked. While they were skating she was accidentally hit by another skater.
"My wig flew off and slid down the length of the floor," she said. "One of my friends went to pick it up and put it back on my head, but she put it on backwards. We ran for the restroom to fix it. I was crying ... I tried to get my dad to pick me up, but then David came to get me. He asked me to go back out and skate. It was such a nice thing to do."
Walter told the children the rescue "transformed the memory of an embarrasing moment into one of kindness and love. David made a choice of kindness because he knew it was the right thing to do and it made a difference."
She wrote about the incident for the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books 20 years after it happened.
"And when it was published David Lane called me, after all those years," she said.
Walter, knowing how important it is for kids to share their experiences, always sets a time at the end of the program to walk around with a microphone and give the kids their chance to tell what's on their minds.
The '84 Mount Si grad has been recognized on the Channel 13 news program and has been called by staff members from the "Oprah Winfrey" show for a possible appearance on an upcoming program.
But mainly, she is a woman on a mission ‹ to encourage young people to think about what they are doing and others' feelings.
"Kids want to make a difference but may not know how to do it," she says. "By my coming in and reinforcing what the schools are trying to promote can really do it."
For more information about Walter's inspirational story, log onto her Website at www.powerofkindness.com.