Laura Hillbrand has a quote from Tenzin Gyatso she borrowed from a colleague that she thinks of often in her role as a school counselor at Lee’s Summit North High School: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Hillbrand has thought of that quote often over the last few months after a close friend of Hillbrand’s, Whitney Bailey – a professor at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater – asked for Hillbrand’s help in collecting guidance supplies for a former student of Bailey’s.
The former student, Kristin Atchley, is a school counselor and last school year worked at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla. Moore was the site of a devastating tornado in May that destroyed Plaza Towers and claimed the lives of seven children and one teacher at the school in the process
Atchley survived the category EF5 tornado but lost all of the guidance supplies in her possession so Hillbrand headed up a district-wide effort to collect items to ship to Atchley. Before the school year ended at Plaza Towers, Atchley had accepted a job at a new school and she had to rebuild her entire school counseling supply list for the upcoming year, Hillbrand said.
“She lost (seven) of her kids as a fairly new counselor,” Hillbrand said of Atchley. “Just as a new counselor 10 years ago I had some difficult things (a death of a student) I had to deal with too at work. Just that first time is really hard and you think some of these things would never happen in our career at all, like this (tornado). My friend in Stillwater called me and asked what were some of the things I could do for Kristin; how can I help her? We just came up with the idea to get people here to help, too.”
Hillbrand added she simply recruited fellow Lee’s Summit R-7 School District educators and students in the endeavor to aid Atchley and offer encouragement to other victims of the tornado. In late May, high-school students in Lee’s Summit wrote letters of support to the students and staff in the Moore Public School District, sending thoughts of hope and strength to the district.
Elementary guidance supplies for individual and group counseling, such as games, puppets, stress balls, art supplies, workbooks, toys and various educational books, were collected and donated as well as notebooks and binders for all grade levels.
“I know this district is very much about community service,” Hillbrand said of the R-7 district. “That’s something that we strongly focus on here. It felt like it was something we strongly needed to do.”
In late July, Hillbrand delivered the supplies and letters to Oklahoma with the help of her 7-year-old son, Chance Hillbrand.
“When we ended up going down to deliver everything we collected, we delivered it to Whitney in Stillwater,” Hillbrand said, “and she took it down to Kristin.”
As for the quote from Tenzin Gyatso – the religious name of the 14th and current Dalai Lama – fellow North counselor Abryana Wood has it posted in her office.
“A fellow school counselor at Lee’s Summit North High Shool, Abryana Wood, has a quote in her office I think of often,” Hillbrand said. “‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’”