TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT) - Compassion is spreading through the Tomah School District. It's thanks, in part, to a young boy who had big dreams to change the world, but never got to realize those dreams.
Tomah High school student Jesse Parker was the focus of a News 8 documentary last year called "Tears to Water."
He had dreams to live a life of service which included bringing clean water to people in Africa. But he also had a big heart for the people of his own community, which are now feeling the love of a boy they never met, almost six years after his death.
"He was fun and he had lots of smiles, but he always had the ability to see someone in the room who needed a boost and he was able to give that to them," said Jesse's mom Jen Parker.
Jesse Parker was always looking out for the underdog. He was a 17-year-old with a heart of gold.
"It's just great to see that your kid cared for people when others weren't watching, he was there for them," Jen said.
On July 4th, 2009, Jesse was killed in a car crash on his way home from a family vacation in Florida. He left behind a beautiful legacy of kindness and compassion.
"It feels natural that we'd want to continue his dedication to looking out for other people and encouraging people to just be kind to each other," said Jen.
After Jesse's death, the Parker's started the Remembering Jesse Parker Foundation in their son's memory.
At the beginning of this school year, the foundation gave $10,000 to the Tomah School District.
"And the vision was simply that whatever kids thought was a compassionate activity, whatever they wanted to engage in, we agreed and we wanted to support them in any way we could," Jen said.
"I was like, this is a perfect opportunity to get this started," said Tomah Art Teacher Melissa Mulvaney.
She launched what's called the HeART Club at Lemonweir Elementary.
"I call it the HeART Club because when I introduced it to the students, I said that we would be creating art with the idea of promoting kindness," said Mulvaney.
Lemonweir 3rd grader Anna Rose created her HeART club piece to hang on the wall at the Chasing Daylight animal shelter.
"I thought it would be kind to do that because they're saving animals from the different homes they had and if the owner was mean, the shelter would be nice and kind to them," said Rose.
4th grader Aisha Hughart's artwork will hang on the wall at the Tomah VA Medical Center.
"I did it to thank them for serving our country and letting us be free," said Hughart of her painting of the American flag. "I thought it would be nice for them to look at."
"I think when a child creates artwork for you, there's a lot of themself in it and to give something away, I know personally as an artist, to give something away, you're giving kindness," said Mulvaney.
Kindness and compassion are spreading at Tomah Middle School as well.
7th grader Clara Krause is part of a group called student guides. "One of the things we do is help new students in the school and on the first day of school I mentored two new students and we're really good friends now," said Krause.
"In my student guides, I'm seeing a lot of leadership and I'm just seeing this feeling good about making a difference," said Tomah M.S. Counselor Tammy Hewuse.
Some of the student guides branched out into a compassion group and last December they threw a party for their classmates who they thought may be feeling lonely and kids with special needs. For some of them, it was the first party they had ever been to.
Krause said, "so they came down for an afternoon of fun and fellowship, we had snacks, 'get to know you' bingo, the limbo game, the dice game and it was just a lot of fun."
"It brought me like great joy because some kids were so happy, they were almost crying and it was just really great to see how happy they were," said Tomah 8th grader Chadd Williamson.
Powerful lessons that can't necessarily be taught or learned from a textbook.
"We're trying to make a bigger difference and impact on kids to be nicer and show more compassion," said Williamson.
"I've seen like people helping people on the playground, like actually playing with one another and like saying excuse me when they pass by other people's desks," said Rose.
Jesse Parker had a dream, a dream for a world filled with kindness; people seeing the best in one another. And now, almost six years after his death, those dreams continue to be realized through the legacy he leaves behind.
"The thing I remember about Jess was his great smile and just this vision he had for other people and when you see that in other kids and feel them being excited and proud that they're able to help somebody else, that's just a great feeling," said Jen.
There are so many other projects going on in the Tomah School District to spread kindness and compassion.
For example, at the high school they've created murals that include plaster hands doing sign language and spelling out 'kind' words. Those will hang in area businesses.
Also, at Warrens Elementary, they're taking part in a Read to Feed project. It encourages reading and raises money through sponsors to help poor families.
Jen Parker says none of this would be possible without the generous donors in the Tomah community and beyond that provide the financial support to their foundation to make Jesse's dreams a reality.
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