College Appeal to Staff and Students: Report Kindness

After Grossmont College opened on June 9, several students took off their caps and gowns and placed them in a special box as a gift for members of next year’s class who lacked the money to buy ceremonial gowns.

It was another in a series of random acts of kindness — an effort to give back on and off the Grossmont campus in El Cajon, Calif., that took place throughout the school year.

It is the 60th anniversary of the community college. Grossmont College opened in East County in the fall of 1961 on the campus of Monte Vista High School. Three years later it moved to its current location in the Fletcher Hills of El Cajon.

Grossmont president Denise Whisenhunt said the leadership team wanted to do something beyond a festive celebration of the milestone — something that would benefit the whole community, especially during this pandemic crisis.

A 60th Anniversary Committee has been established with representatives from the Vice President’s Circle, Academic Senate, Classified Senate, and student leaders.

“Everyone felt we should do something to focus inward and outward,” Whisenhunt said. The result was a commitment from college leadership to highlight 60 random acts of kindness.

A website was launched in January and the campus community was invited to post stories acknowledging heartwarming gestures, big and small.

The kindness diary began with Whisenhunt and Liz Barrow, coordinator of Grossmont’s Cardiovascular Technology Program, handing out candy boxes to freshmen to celebrate the end of their first semester.

It culminated in the beginning with the donations of caps and dresses. Days earlier, college administrators passed by four senior community centers, each dropping off baskets containing 60 pairs of new socks.

During the official anniversary celebration on May 3, kiosks on campus were set up, including a sun stand handing out sunflowers to 60 random passers-by – students, faculty and staff – with a written message urging them to present the flower to someone they appreciate.

Whisenhunt recalls a faculty member proudly announcing, “My student gave me a sunflower.”

“That day was awesome,” she said. “People were walking around with sunflowers and big smiles.”

Among other examples:

• Frank Laveaga of Campus Services and Parking anonymously left treats and gifts of appreciation for his colleagues. Additionally, using his own money, he made goodie bags for the night shift to give to homeless people he encountered on campus.

• Nursing student Michael Adams was spied delivering Meals on Wheels food to an elderly person’s home.

• Human Resources Specialist Lorena Carpenter resolved a medical benefits crisis for an employee during winter vacation when school was not in session and Carpenter was on vacation.

• In response to an elderly person’s sadness at not being able to walk on the beach and watch the sun go down during the pandemic, student Michael Catolico photographed a series of sunrises and sunsets, took photos of seagulls and crashing waves and created a video slideshow with sound effects. He added a sandbag and presented this boxed beach gift to the eldest.

• Director of Public Information Michele Clock picked up a colleague from the hospital, then went shopping and spent her own money on groceries to help during the patient’s recovery.

• Fresh flowers were displayed each day in a department on campus, thanks to an anonymous donor.

• With the cost of fuel skyrocketing, a Grossmont employee paid for a tank of gas for a colleague.

• Whisenhunt not only gave a staff member a plant that the employee had admired during a meeting in her office, but the president of Grossmont personally delivered it after the meeting.

• Dee Aceves provided Curriculum Committee members with a take-out dinner prepared by Culinary Arts students. She brought a tablecloth and flowers and set a table with a view of Cowles Mountain at sunset.

• Student Jacob McDermott has given his textbook to his teacher to give to a student in need in the coming year.

• Seeing a homeless man near the garbage can of a fast food restaurant, a Grossmont College staff member bought him a hamburger and a bottle of water.

• Middle school dean Nancy Saks wanted to show her appreciation to local firefighters, so baskets of frozen treats were delivered to Stations 7 and 34 on May 2.

“They were all big smiles that other entities in the community will remember,” Saks said. “It was great spending a few minutes with a few of them.”

On back-to-school day, the college had surpassed its goal of 60 random good deeds.

“It’s our way of thinking beyond ourselves,” Whisenhunt said.

“Sometimes the best celebrations are the ones you can give into. There’s power in that. … It’s definitely been inspirational.”

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