He stood at the edge of the Great and Terrible Tragedy and watched as his young student tried to find her way out of the darkness of it all. He knew she was grieving the recent loss of her beloved father and his heart went out to her. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny, smooth pebble. He walked to the watery edge of the Great and Terrible, knelt down and gently tossed in the pebble. Little did he know how many lives would be changed by the seemingly small ripples sent out across the sad stillness of grief. In that moment, he could not see how far those ripples would stream out over time. He had no way of knowing that with that simple act of setting those ripples in motion that not only would the young girl find deep healing, but that many others would as well. He stood back up and watched the girl as she felt the first ripple float by her. In that moment, neither the girl nor the teacher knew how many lives would be blessed in Beautiful and Bountiful ways. They only saw the ripples gently floating out across the darkness. She looked back to the edge of the Great and Terrible and saw her teacher standing there. She looked down and saw a glimmer of light as it reflected off of the ripples fanning outward. Her tiny heart felt a twinge of hope. She gazed out across the darkness of the Great and Terrible and knew that somehow, some way those ripples would guide her to safety. And so begins the journey of William Petty and Catherine Smith, two travelers on a path to heal hearts.
Our story begins in February 2013 when Mr. Petty was granted the task of encouraging and motivating his students into raising donations for the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart event. Knowing that Catherine had recently lost her dad to heart complications, he carefully set about helping her navigate the fundraising for the event. Catherine was only in the beginning of grieving at this time. Knowing that it was a very sensitive situation, Mr. Petty made sure Catherine knew that he was there to support her through this event. With Mr. Petty’s encouragement, Catherine raised over $2,500 for Jump Rope for Heart that year! Mr. Petty was so proud of her accomplishments that he held a special assembly in her honor. It was an amazing day and Catherine felt surrounded by so much love.
Jump Rope for Heart event 2013
The following year, Mr. Petty dropped another pebble into the pond of Catherine’s life. He wanted to inspire the students for the upcoming 2014 Jump Rope for Heart event. He challenged Catherine to raise more donations than the entire school combined! She raised over $1,110 and even though she didn’t beat the school total, Mr. Petty was proud of her accomplishment. He was also excited about the inspiration that had motivated the students into their fundraising efforts. The ripples from Mr. Petty’s pebbles were now making their way across Acacia Elementary. Also, Catherine had proven with this second amazing effort that she was most definitely a heart hero.
Fast forward to early fall of 2014….our young Heart Heroine has been told by the lovely Theresa Hoge from the American Heart Association that an award has been created in her name. Beginning in 2015, the Catherine Smith Grateful Heart Award would be awarded not only to the top fundraising student at Acacia Elementary School, but the Esmond Station Elementary School as well where Catherine was now attending as a middle school student. (And where Mr. Petty was now teaching.) The ripples of Mr. Petty’s pebbles were about to touch many other lives in meaningful and magical ways.
In October of 2014, Catherine was determined to raise as many donations as possible to show her dedication to the cause that had now become so very dear to her. She also had a sneaky suspicion that Mr. Petty would be challenging her again. (and she was right!) To be prepared for that in addition to wanting to make the American Heart Association proud, she created candy corn hearts made of wood and sold them for $5 each. She donated 100% of the proceeds to her Jump Rope for Heart fund for the upcoming February event. They were an instant success! By the end of October, she had raised over $800 from the sale of her candy corn hearts! She began creating other heart designs as well and her donation fund was growing by leaps and bounds! By the end of the event in March, Catherine’s hearts had raised $3, 355 for Jump Rope for Heart!
Recently, as we have reflected back over this incredible journey of Mr. Petty and Catherine, it has become crystal clear that the ripples of Mr. Petty’s pebbles have impacted so many people. The ripples of inspiration pushed the student body at Esmond Station to raise over $8,000 this year in donations making the school the highest fundraiser in the Vail School District! Catherine was so excited when fellow students would tell her how much money they were raising. She was tickled to pieces when young Patrick Fleming excitedly told her that he had raised over $400 all by himself! It really touched her heart. When Catherine discovered that Mr. Petty’s son, Caden was the top fundraiser with over $600 in donations, she was overcome with emotion. Not only had Mr. Petty’s pebbles created inspiration and accomplishment in Catherine’s life, the ripples had connected with his own son’s life as well.
The ripples of those “pebbles” were evident when people would share stories with Catherine about what her story and her hearts meant to them personally. People were deeply touched and impacted by her journey. Some hearts were given as gifts. Some were shared as reminders of loved ones who had passed on from heart disease. There were hearts that were given as well wishes for speedy recovery in illness. Hearts were purchased to decorate baby nurseries, family rooms, kitchens, offices, children’s parties and more. People were always telling Catherine that the hearts made them smile and feel so happy whenever they looked at them. There were stories from people who had been in very sad places emotionally, but had been uplifted by the gift of one of her hearts. Catherine’s hearts that were created from the ripples of Mr. Petty’s pebbles were now sending out ripples of their own.
William Petty has been a guardian angel for Catherine since the beginning of her time at Acacia Elementary. Catherine had only been a student there for a few months when her dad passed away. His encouragement and belief in her pulled her out of the Great and Terrible and guided her back into the light of love and kindness. His motivational efforts to challenge her not only helped her accomplish fantastic goals, but gave her determination and courage to go forward bravely. I had a chuckle over Thanksgiving when we put up a Grateful Tree. We each wrote things we were grateful for on leaves and put them on the tree. Of all the things to be grateful for, she had written “Mr. Petty’s challenges” on one of her leaves. I still get a giggle over that 🙂 William Petty has had a huge and meaningful impact on my child’s life. I am blessed to have him by her side at school each day because I know that she will always be safe and well cared for while away from me. Every child at Esmond Station is very lucky to have a teacher like Mr. Petty in their life. Mr. Petty is not only educating our students in physical education, but in valuable life lessons as well.
Hundreds of lives have been touched by the “drop” of that one “pebble in the pond” in 2013. The lesson in this for me is that the act of one truly does impact the lives of many. Mr. Petty’s belief in Catherine gave her the courage to move ahead when she wasn’t sure which way to go. Because he gave her courage, she in turn gave the gift of healing and love to so many others. The ripples continue on infinitely. The world is a better place because a teacher saw a child in need, dropped a pebble in the waters of the Great and Terrible Tragedy which set in motion a journey of infinite blessings. Out of those blessings, two Heart Heroes were born.