Nathan Jones, 17, interacts with elementary students at Compton Elementary School in Powder Springs on Sept. 20. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

This Life with Gracie: Forget likes, what the world needs now is love

A week ago at Compton Elementary School, something wonderful happened that we don’t get to see too often.

Band students from Hillgrove High School arrived to hang out with the little guys, talk some and to make sure, if for some reason there was no food in their homes during fall break this week, they had something to eat.

That was the first thing that gave me goose pimples.

The second was that the effort was the brainchild of 17-year-old Nathan Jones, not the adults in the crowd.

Jones is a junior and a mean trumpet player with the Hillgrove Hawks band.

The idea, he said, came to him two years ago during a discussion about community service in a freshman leadership class. Serving the community was nothing new to Jones. For years, he and his family, recent transplants from Orlando, Fla., had been active community volunteers, gladly fulfilling their responsibility to care for “the least of these.”

That included packing meals for No Child Hungry, a nonprofit that collects and sends meals to the needy in Haiti.

Last year, Jones thought it a good idea to get the band involved in the effort, only do it for children here at home. Band director Patrick Erwin agreed but decided they had neither the time nor the resources to pull it off.

“It got put on the back burner,” Jones said. “This year, I decided to try again.”

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This time, Erwin encouraged Jones to take charge and he did.

Band members from Hillgrove High School talk with students at Compton Elementary School in Powder Springs on Sept. 20. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Knowing his father and pastor David Jones had experience getting this sort of thing done, Nathan sought his help.

Back in August, the Rev. Jones challenged the band to raise $5,000 to help underwrite the cost of packing the meals. Within two weeks, they’d collected $6,000 in donations, enough to provide 2,500 family meals — bags of rice, soy protein, vitamins and vegetables — pay substitute teachers and for transportation to and from Compton Elementary in Powder Springs. Jones’ church, Macland Presbyterian, chipped in to pay for 1,000 more meals.

If you don’t think 3,500 meals are a big deal, you have no idea how many children are going to bed hungry in this country.

We hear a lot about the need for food during the summer months but not so much during spring, fall and winter breaks and not so much about the deep hunger that is in all of us to be loved.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 13 million children live in “food insecure” homes in this country. Thirteen million. That means those families don’t regularly have enough food to eat, the most basic of all human needs.

To give you an idea of how great the need is at Compton, nearly 85 percent of its 530 students receive free or reduced lunches.

This being the end of the month, when refrigerators and pantries tend to empty for these families, a bag of food can mean the difference between a full belly and an empty one for many of those students.

“This is a one casserole dish that can feed an entire family,” said Beth Lair, principal at Compton. “This is a help mate. This is neighbor helping neighbor.”

But Hillgrove’s effort isn’t just about feeding the body. It’s about feeding souls, too.

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Early on, the band’s goal was to shift students’ focus from the all-encompassing pursuit of “likes” to building relationships with those closest to them.

To that end, the band has incorporated the message — “what the world needs now is love, not likes” — into its halftime show.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“That means actually going into the community and actually showing love,” Nathan said. “We’re going out and doing what we’re telling people to do.”

Hence their visit to Compton Elementary last week.

Their efforts, Lair said, fit nicely with Compton’s vision to learn, lead and lift up.

“I talk to them all the time about being a leader means serving others,” Lair said. “This is an example that our children can see and realize that leadership isn’t just something we talk about here but it’s a life skill.”

Band members are already talking about extending their efforts beyond Friday night football games and a once-a-year visit to Compton. They’re considering visiting with students more often, maybe once a semester.

“People are so focused on social media, they’re forgetting the people around them,” Nathan said. “We want to encourage each other to find love from the people around them, not the likes from those who are far away.”

In Burt Bacharach’s immortal words, love is “what the world needs now.” And “not just for some but for everyone.”

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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