When I started planning for Max's bar mitzvah, it was a given that in honor of it he would do a good deed project, aka a mitzvah project. After I crowdsourced ideas here a year ago, Max opted for a fire safety presentation to nobody's surprise.
I consulted with a teacher at the school who's done fire safety programs, and we decided Max could present to her kindergarten class. That was cool with Max; I pointed out that he would be able to teach the little kids important stuff. The teacher put me in touch with a local fire department, and a firefighter committed to coming by.
Over the course of several weeks, Max put together sentences for the presentation on his Proloquo2Go speech app. Max had plenty of ideas for which fire safety facts he wanted to talk about. I made a PowerPoint with the sentences, Max chose photos and we and shot a couple of action videos for it. He'd run through the presentation on his speech app as the PowerPoint showed on the class's SmartBoard. Firefighter Michael gave it his seal of approval.
On the day of, Max wore his beloved Fire Chief hat and t-shirt from The Wildwood Fire Dept. at the Jersey shore. He brought his favorite Tonka fire truck (well, one of them) to school as a good luck charm.
Max lucked out—Firefighter Michael brought a pal, Kevin. The two of them stood in the class as Max did his thing. Max acted like he'd been making presentations his entire life, so cool and calm was he.
Here's Max's presentation:
The kids were really into it. Afterward, some practiced their stop, drop and roll. I asked this cute little guy whether he'd ever want to go to firefighter school. "No, I go to this school!" he pointed out. Then Max handed out Kidde Worry-Free Combination Smoke and CO Alarms, with 10-year batteries. He's been a Kidde Kid Ambassador this past year, and they generously sent 10 alarms for all the kids, along with fire hats, fire safety flyers and stickers.
When Michael and Kevin invited everyone outside to check out the fire truck, Max was psyched to show kids the various tools. Even the teachers were duly awed by the jaws of life.
This project was a win-win. The kids picked up key tips. And Max clearly felt empowered by what he'd done, because as we walked back toward his class he gave me a big high-five and asked if he could do the presentation again. A teacher standing outside her class overheard us and said that could work, and I just emailed to set it up. How awesome would it be if Max could regularly teach fire safety, perhaps even at other schools?
Oftentimes, kids participate in programs for children with special needs for a mitzvah project (ideally, they stay involved for years afterward). Max has been that kid, and over the years he's enjoyed the company of teens who have come to our house to hang with him. I've always tried to help his playmates see Max's abilities; he is not some poor, pathetic boy who needs to be anyone's "project." (For a related good read on the topic, see Pamela Rae Schuller's I'm Not Your Mitzvah Project op-ed.)
Last week, though, Max was the one doing a good deed. He planned, prepared and made it happen. He truly wanted to help those kindergartners learn to stay safe, intentions befitting a bar mitzvah boy. I was so proud of Max. And even better, Max was so proud of himself.