Riviera Beach Elementary School teacher Eric Bellarin posted a simple request to Facebook: Would anyone be willing to donate a book to his fifth-grade class?
Bellarin hoped for 27 books, one for each of his students. He ended up with more than 60. The additional books went to the other fifth-grade class.
“I was legitimately blown away,” Bellarin said. “I wasn’t expecting that response.”
Many of the people who donated were from various chapters of Bellarin’s life, and the donations came from all over the country: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and even Colorado.
“It ties into the fact that there are good people out there, and there are a lot of people that want others to do well and feel well,” Bellarin said.
In addition to purchasing the book, each donor was asked to write an encouraging note on the inside cover to the student. The idea was appealing because at the start of the school year, Bellarin said, a lot of kids need that extra pat on the back.
“They’re never going to meet these people that donated the books,” Bellarin said. “Through this, they have someone else out there that’s pushing them through. They’re words of encouragement.”
Jessica Hedrick, one of Bellarin’s students, said the book and message made her feel “very happy, excited and special.”
“I loved the saying that they wrote: ‘There are pencils and erasers for a reason, no one is perfect,’” Jessica said.
Elijah Essel, another one of Bellarin’s students, said the book and message made him feel “determined to get through fifth grade like a warrior.”
“Fifth grade is a challenge to rise up to,” Elijah said. “It made me wanna not just finish fifth grade, but to finish knowing I tried my hardest and never gave up.”
In the notes, the greeting was left blank. Once Bellarin got his class roster, he decided which book was appropriate for which student and wrote their names into the blank spaces.
“I believe the random act of kindness that Mr. Bellarin facilitated illustrates the desire of folks in the community to support the academic achievement of our students at RBES,” said Principal Jason Anderson. “I appreciate Mr. Bellarin leading this effort and the community members who donated the books and personal notes.”
Sarah Muhl, who went to Jacobsville Elementary with Bellarin, wanted to help because “so few teachers ask for the help. They go and they do it themselves.” Muhl donated “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first book in the seven-part series, with hope that it might spark a love and encourage a student to read the rest of the series.
“It blew me away that he wanted to do this for these kids,” Muhl said of Bellarin. “Lots of kids don’t have tangible books they can hold anymore. Everybody’s on their electronic device. It’s something that sparks an interest in a kid to hold a real chapter book and be able to just sit and read. It’s relaxing. It enlightens them.”
Matt Antlitz said he and Bellarin don’t talk often now, but they used to play softball and basketball together. Antlitz donated “The Boy Who Saved Baseball.”
“I used to work in the school system for over 10 years,” Antlitz said. “Even though I no longer do, my heart still belongs with school-aged children and helping them succeed in whatever way I can.”
Bob Mitchell donated “Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade.” Mitchell is a high school friend of Bellarin’s mother and has known Bellarin all his life.
“I decided to contribute because, as a former principal and teacher, I know building relationships and making students feel welcome and an integral part of the classroom is so important to making a positive classroom environment,” Mitchell said.
Bellarin said the community aspect, demonstrated in this random act of kindness, is what really makes a school successful.
“It’s that pay-it-forward kind of approach that I really want these kids to see,” Bellarin said. “It’s perfectly fine to help just because it’s helping.”