Paper Plate Awards

About three weeks ago I visited our YMCA’s Camp GRACE along with 15 volunteers who help raise money for the Y’s Annual Campaign. Funds raised help support programs for folks who need us but without help might not have the opportunity to participate.

The Y runs GRACE at three sites in the Triangle. This camp is for children with Autism or other Pervasive Development Disorders.

While at camp I was thrown back to fifth grade. I was a student at Glendale Acres Elementary School in Fayetteville, NC, and Mrs. Buie was my homeroom teacher. Once she made me write 100 times: I will not forget my homework. It seemed unfair to me because I realized I left my math at home and had my mom bring it to the school before class started. Somehow she found out I had a special delivery and punishment ensued. I thought I should actually receive extra credit for problem solving. She was hardnosed and didn’t see it that way.

I was not a particularly cool kid. I know that’s hard to believe!

I was an above average student but not stellar. I wasn’t particularly good at anything. I wasn’t athletic. When Scotty Cannon, who had hair on his chest by 3rd grade, threw the dodgeball, I simply ran off the court. If he hit you, you could have the word Spaulding emblazoned on your abdomen for two weeks. Back then we didn’t play with cushiony balls. No, we played with balls made out of two inch rubber, hard as a mound of hard clay!

But during the last week of school that year, I walked into the awards assembly. I was likely disengaged assuming smarty pants Lindsay Merron or cool boy Joey Brennan would rake in most of the acknowledgement. To my surprise, when the principal, Mr. Lawson, called out the winner of the final and most prestigious honor, the Citizenship Award, my name was called out!

I walked up to the stage like Jack Nicholson – cool as a cucumber.

What a great feeling – ME, Danny Tanner, the most citizenshippy out of 500 students! And, as I recall, the trophy was HUGE – bigger than any other.

As the YMCA Director walked us around Camp GRACE, she described their Friday Paper Plate Awards Assembly. At the end of each week, parents are invited in and staff present each camper with a decorated Paper Plate Award that recognizes something they’ve done well over the past five days. Perhaps it is Best Swimmer or Friendliest Camper.

Two things routinely happen at this assembly – the children go nuts for themselves and for each other, and parents weep.

Imagine seeing your child, who maybe has never been recognized for being the best at something, being lauded for his accomplishments. It is powerful stuff.

That’s what the Y does, day in and day out. It provides children, teens and adults opportunities to feel good.

TODAY is the YMCA’s Day of Giving, and my goal is to raise $5,000. Consider a gift that will help over 20,000 people who need a place to fit in, fit in.


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  1. Susan Permar

     /  September 29, 2022

    Really, I always thought you were cool!


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