'Happy birthday' song brings girl in underserved community to tears

by Jared Paben

"She looked up with totally red eyes and tears streaming down her face and said, 'No, I'm so happy.'"

'Happy birthday' song brings girl in underserved community to tears

Blythe Olson was an AmeriCorps member serving through the Ethos Rural Music Outreach AmeriCorps program, which provides youth in rural underserved communities with opportunities to access music education, programming and to stimulate ongoing support for music education offerings.

Blythe's story of service:

"I was about to start a lesson for a class of third graders. My third graders at Warm Springs are one of the most difficult groups I have, behaviorally. They shout out all the time and are generally always disrupting class, so as they walked in I was bracing myself for another musical battle for their attention.

As soon as they sat down, they started shouting out right away that it was Shirley's birthday that day. Shirley was a very quiet, well-behaved student who I see out around the community a lot, but she hardly ever speaks in class. I have a rule that if it is someone's birthday, we have to stop everything we're doing in order to sing them the best happy birthday song we can possibly manage as a class.

So I told them okay, we were going to stop everything while I went over to the piano, and I instructed them to sit up straight and tall and use their very best singing voices to wish Shirley a happy birthday. We sang the song, clapped to celebrate Shirley, and then I went back to my chair in front of the class to finish taking attendance and start the lesson. Almost immediately afterwards, the kids were shouting out again - this time, "Shirley's crying! She's crying!"

I looked up and there she was with her face in her hands. I said "Oh no! Shirley, why are you crying? Did you not like it that we sang happy birthday to you?"

She looked up with totally red eyes and tears streaming down her face and said, "No, I'm so happy."

Thank you for your service, Blythe!
Posted on January 8, 2014 in AmeriCorps.