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More than 70 patients recovering from surgery at Bartlett Regional Hospital will soon be able to pass the time better, thanks to a middle-schooler’s love for poetry.
Spreading kindness through poetry 053117 AE 1 Alex McCarthy, Juneau Empire More than 70 patients recovering from surgery at Bartlett Regional Hospital will soon be able to pass the time better, thanks to a middle-schooler’s love for poetry.

Floyd Dryden student Leora Murray presents a box of activity gift bags for patients on the 3rd Floor Medical-Surgical department at Bartlett Regional Hospital on Monday, May 22, 2017. Leora, 11, won a national kindness writing contest and was awarded $250 to spend on a community need. She chose to provide gifts for BRH patients. Michael Penn | Juneau Empire

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Story last updated at 5/30/2017 - 3:11 pm

Spreading kindness through poetry

More than 70 patients recovering from surgery at Bartlett Regional Hospital will soon be able to pass the time better, thanks to a middle-schooler’s love for poetry.

Leora Murray, a sixth-grader at Floyd Dryden Middle School in Juneau, won a national competition put on by an organization called Think Kindness that runs various programs in schools throughout the country. The class assignment was simple: define “kindness” in words.

It could be a personal essay, it could be a poem, it could be anything. Murray, already a fan of poetry at 11 years old, wrote out a poem, and did it quickly. She said it only took a few minutes to put together the 71-word poem, with a little bit of editing.

“I did most of it at school when he assigned it,” Murray said, “then did a little more tweaking at home when I typed it.”

Twenty students from Floyd Dryden submitted their definitions of kindness, some telling personal stories and some even augmenting their words by using flashy and unique font styles. The words in Murray’s poem spoke for themselves, and Floyd Dryden counselor Kelly Hansen and others at the school submitted it for national consideration.

Her poem, entitled, “What is Kindness,” ended up going up against students from 75 other schools throughout the country. Brian Williams, the charismatic organizer of Think Kindness, was enamored with the first line of Murray’s poem. When he announced the winner via YouTube, he elected to read it aloud.

Kindness is an ocean wave of warmth crashing over everything, and nothing is left dry.

“Dude,” Williams said in his YouTube video, “I love that.”

Murray didn’t make much of a big deal of the poem, at least not to her parents Chris and Angela.

“She mentioned it, that they did something in class, and then it just came out of the blue,” Chris said.

They got a call at home about Leora winning the contest, but kept it under wraps so she could get surprised at school.

Murray received a $250 prize, but it came with one caveat. She had to use the prize money to give back somehow. Her first thought was to make care packages for children recovering from surgery at Bartlett Regional Hospital. When staff told her that there weren’t very many children in that unit, Murray decided to expand the care packages to adults as well.

She and her family looked up options of what to get online, and put together two packages. Children would receive a copy of Highlights magazine, pencils and other assorted items. Adults would receive either a book of Sudoku puzzles or a book of general puzzles. The option for a coloring book — either adult or child-themed — was available, along with colored pencils.

When the hospital accepted the packages at the Medical-Surgical Unit on Monday, May 22, there were 17 for children and 60 for adults. The hospital already has books and other items that it keeps around for patients who are looking for something to keep them occupied, and these bags now join that collection.

Murray, wearing a black “Star Wars” T-shirt as Hansen read the poem aloud at the hospital Monday, remained fairly soft-spoken and humble about the honor. She said she likes writing in all forms, even having a couple stories at home that she’s written. She said the urge to write began in school, and has grown from there.

Hansen said Murray’s writing has made her a standout in school, but this honor extends beyond the classroom.

“She’s a great student leader and a great role model,” Hansen said. “We’re so lucky to have her at Floyd.”