MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. — Thad Livingston has never been to Mount Juliet Elementary School. He has never even met anybody at the school. And he lives about 800 miles away.
But the Eastampton, N.J., resident now has a lot of friends in Mount Juliet.
An email blast from the school mistakenly went to Livingston at the start of the school year. Instead of ignoring or spiking the email, Livingston reached out to the school and fostered a relationship with the students and staff.
“We call him our New Jersey grandfather,” said student Samantha Hartsook. “He’s amazing.”
When Livingston was somehow included on an email that fifth-grade teacher Emily Lupton sent to parents about typical business, he responded because he feared his name may have replaced a parent who needed the message.
When he learned the school asked parents for 20 used computer mice, Livingston shipped 30 brand new ones to the class.
“My wife’s a teacher so I know how teachers scrounge things together,” said Livingston. “So I just said, ‘let’s have some fun.’ ”
The generosity started a back and forth with the school.
Students sent him individual thank you notes and Lupton packed a Tennessee gift box that included a class picture, and items such as Moon Pies and Goo Goo Clusters.
Livingston responded with his own New Jersey goody box with foods, six pages of information on the state, Rutgers University pennants and a map. He also sent $210 — $10 for each student in Lupton’s class — to go toward the school’s annual Bear Run that raises money for technology. He learned about the event from another email.
The retired Air Force veteran and FedEx pilot didn’t stop there. When he learned about another teacher’s project to send Christmas stockings to military personnel overseas, Livingston donated $300.
The exchange also has prompted Lupton to launch a Random Acts of Kindness Challenge among students in two fifth-grade classrooms as students eagerly tack their different good deeds on the wall.
“Just doing those tiny things can make a person’s day happy, it makes them feel special,” said student Lillian Weiss.
Student Keegan McAfee did free yard work for a neighbor and student Emma Divona donated her Halloween candy to the military stockings. Lupton estimated more than 100 different acts of kindness occurred since the challenge began.
“It’s infectious, they are all trying to do more,” Lupton said. “(Students) were moved. Let’s look at how that made you feel; how simple it was. Let’s keep that cycle going. How others can have that same moment.”
“When we saw what the kids were doing, I don’t know why, we just sort of adopted them,” said Livingston, whose wife, Kathy, teaches high school culinary arts. “There were heartfelt thank you notes from a lot of the kids and she went out of her way to include the treats.”
Livingston estimated he still gets one to two emails per week from the school, though nobody has been able to figure out why.
“When someone makes a big impression on you,” fifth-grader Andrew Romer said, “it makes you want to do a lot of good in the world.”
Follow Andy Humbles on Twitter @AndyHumbles
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