The energy charged foyer of the new High School building is buzzing with strapping guys and confident young ladies wearing hand decorated chef’s hats and brightly striped socks. The excitement is palatable as balloons are filled with helium, tables set up and big pots of soup delivered outside where propane hot plates are waiting at the serving station. A large picture of a gorgeous young man sits on an easel next to a long acrylic tube with “donations” painted on the side. On the high windows over the door leading out to the soup are two hand painted signs saying “WE GIVE” and “BECAUSE YOU GAVE – we love you Hunter.”
So many old farts my age whine about the youth of today: citing perceptions of self-centeredness and sense of entitlement. With some of the highest average incomes nationally in our local suburbs and a survey of the cars in the Bellevue High School Parking Lot it’s easy to see how the uninformed might come to that conclusion. But if those folks had been at Bellevue High School around noon this last Wednesday their perspective would have been forever changed.
This was the date of the sixth annual “Soup 4 Simpson” event at Bellevue High. Spearheaded by the efforts of Kathy Adams, enthusiastic and adored accounting teacher at the school and faculty advisor for the event, a large number of students (students from a broad range of social groupings...yes, I mean cliques of jocks and nerds and emos and homey goodness…inclusive of so many different kids) had been working for months on pulling together this popular event.
|Anne Simpson, Hunter's Mom and Kathy Adams, staff advisor for the event|
Served along with the soup are cookies that have been cooked by the students in their home-ec class. One of the cookies is made from Hunter’s favorite recipe that he liked to make and includes his “secret ingredient”. I don’t even know what it is but the cookies are delish. On the outside of each cookie bag is a label that tells the story and why soup is the menu. This is how it goes:In January 2005, in his senior year, Hunter Simpson was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He endured six weeks of intense radiation and then various forms of chemotherapy over the next ten months. Though he suffered frequent seizures, brought on by the tumor and chemotherapy, he continued to attend Bellevue High School, God Squad and feeding the homeless in Seattle on the weekends with some of his friends. He graduated in June and was very intent on attending college at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., Canada to pursue a degree in International Religious Studies. Despite the fact that he would have to come home every other Friday for chemotherapy, he left for college in August 2005 and he had a plan and his plan involved SOUP! He figured that if he only ate soup for lunch and dinner (Chili was too expensive at $2.00!) that by the end of the semester he would have enough money left on his meal plan to “buy out the cafeteria.” So, in the third week of December, with $998.00 left on his meal plan, Hunter loaded up his girlfriend, Gwen Rowland’s car with all the non-perishable, “legal-over-the-border-food” he could fit in the car and came home for Christmas vacation. He and Gwen delivered the food to New Horizons Homeless Shelter for Teens in Seattle the next day. New Horizons was very grateful for the food and also for the new sofas and a pool table that had been given to them from the “Make-a-Wish Foundation” as Hunter’s gift. Hunter had been given a “Make a Wish” when he was diagnosed with brain cancer and he said that he had “everything that he needed” and gifted his gift to New Horizons. Hunter died a week later on New Year’s Eve. The “Soup4Simpson” lunch day gives the students of Bellevue High School the opportunity to make a little sacrifice to help those in need. As Hunter would have put it, “in order to leave the world a little bit better than when you got here.”
At the Soup4Simpson event students are asked to give to the fundraiser the money they would have otherwise spent on lunch that day. Instead, that day they enjoy a cup of donated soup side by side with their schoolmates. The money raised is given to New Horizons, a nonprofit ministry that serves street homeless youth. The non-profit agency is headquartered in the Belltown neighborhood of. Hunter was very smitten with this organization where street kids are given a place to come out of the weather, get a shower, clean clothes and a hot meal while they connect with loving staff and volunteers. The foundation also includes a coffee shop where the kids can learn business and social skills to better equip them to leave the street life. Soup4Simpson has raised around $4,000-$5,000 each year for New Horizons. But more importantly than the money it raises is the spirit it fosters in these young High Schoolers to do something bigger than themselves; to follow the example of Hunter in caring for others in need.
My son was two years behind Hunter at B.H.S. in 2007, his senior year and the first year of the Soup4Simpson event, he was working in the kitchen of Pagliachi Pizza. The event happened to fall on his payday. It was this mother’s proud moment when she found out that her son drove to work and picked up his tip envelope and took it straight to school to put in the donations without even opening it to see how much it was.
I never got the honor of meeting Hunter in person. It wasn’t until after he died that I became friends with Anne, his mom. I want her to know that Hunter has given me so many gifts though. Through him I got to see the seeds of empathy and compassion sewn in my own child. Every year, through his legacy I get to be reminded of the goodness and energy of the next generations and shed some of that old fart cynicism about the youth of today. What an honor to be touched by such goodness.