To Save a Life or Buy a Shirt

The Christophers’ Jerry Costello shares a story about a teenage girl who realized she had enough material possessions, so she decided to help others in need:

One of our mottoes at The Christophers is a simple one: “You can change the world.” The words were written many years ago by our founder, Maryknoll Father James Keller. Even though I never worked with Father Keller–never met him, in fact–I’ve read a good deal of what he had to say, and I think I know what he meant. He wanted people to believe that it was in their power to bring it about, that they could do it. And even if they can make a start at it, they’ve already begun to change the world.

I thought about Father Keller’s motto when I read the story of teenager Chelsea Egan, written in The Record of northern New Jersey by Mike Kelly, a columnist for the paper. Chelsea lives in the Bergen County community of Haworth, goes to Northern Valley High School in Demarest, and shares many of her likes and dislikes with other girls her age. Like many of them, too, she gets a lot of birthday presents each year, and with her 15th birthday rapidly approaching, she had an idea to bring to her parents: Why not skip the gifts this year and collect money for cancer instead?

The idea didn’t pop up out of thin air. Chelsea lost one aunt to cancer and another was battling the disease, and she wanted to do something to help fight it. Thus was born the quickly-organized collection, which included donations ranging from 45 cents to $100.

“Stop and consider those sums,” Kelly wrote. “They’re obviously small. And when it comes to conquering the monolith of cancer, they aren’t much…But they are something–and that’s the point Chelsea Egan was trying to make.”

Here, it’s quite obvious, were Father Keller’s words come to life. In making a start at changing the world, Chelsea had already begun the process. She explained her thoughts on the matter a bit further:

“My parents bought me lots of stuff for Christmas. There wasn’t anything else I needed, though there was more stuff I wanted. But what’s the reason for me to get more stuff? Would I rather save a life or buy a shirt? That’s what it came down to.”

So she sat down and wrote a letter asking for contributions, mentioning her aunts and ending with these words: “Every cent counts. It would mean a lot more to save a life than to give me a birthday gift.” Chelsea’s Mom and Dad started the ball rolling with $100, her grandparents added $50, aunts and uncles and friends all chipped in. So did her freshman basketball team at Northern Valley. Chelsea herself donated all of her baby-sitting money for January, which came to about $50.

At the outset she expected to raise about $200, and now she’s closing in on $1,000. Not bad, what one person can do.

The news cheered her aunt, who is still undergoing chemotherapy. “It just shows you that all you have to do is to take the first step,” she said. “If everybody took that first step, no matter how small or insignificant it is, it could turn into something great.”

You, too, can change the world. It’s just that every now and then, like Chelsea Egan, you do it a little bit at a time.

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