If there’s one place Caroline Rinehart thrives, it would be in the halls of Vandalia Junior High School. “I like seeing my friends and my teachers every single day,” Caroline says, “It’s just really nice to be able to talk to people and see them.” She relishes challenging herself in the classroom and claims math as her favorite subject. “I have really good teachers who can explain it really well,” she says, “there's always something new to learn about math.” The different operations in mathematics fascinate her, from addition to subtraction to fractions and beyond.
You Can't Wait
Forever To Do
With a love of math, it’s no surprise that she looks up to people who know what they’re doing and can produce conclusive results. “I like being around my family, I really enjoy being around my friends, and my teachers are really comforting and they make me feel really safe,” Caroline explains. What she admires most in people is their unique abilities. She appreciates it if you’re really good at what you do. Discussing the broader community of Vandalia, she has a similar perspective: “Everybody's kind. It's just really nice to be around people I know.” The city’s small town atmosphere guarantees no one passes through a stranger.
Her dad, who coaches and teaches driver’s ed, is her gateway to familiarity with other community members. Seeing the rapport between her dad and the townspeople inspires her, and with two grandparents who were teachers, she doesn’t consider it a long shot that she may become a teacher herself. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher because I like being around people and kids,” she says. Her mom, a nurse, also stresses the importance of closeness to the community through her work, and Caroline thinks it would make her happy to participate in the community to the degree that her parents do.
One community that Caroline already networks in is sports. She plays softball, basketball, and some volleyball. “I love sports, they build teamwork,” she says, “it gets me active and I like to stay active.” Another plus is the friends she’s made with her teammates. If her teammates had to describe her, Caroline says they’d call her “loyal.” “I always try to be kind,” she says, “people ask me, ‘Why are you so nice?’ I just always say, I’m nice because I always want to make the world a better place. I feel like that's where you can start.”
Unconditional kindness isn’t without its pitfalls. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to help those closest to us. Caroline knows this firsthand, as she recently went through an ordeal with a friend who wouldn’t allow her to comfort them. “I just tried to let them have their own space and then try to talk to them about it,” she recounts, “and that’s really made it a lot better.” Even when her friends hurt alone in silence, Caroline insists on being there, and if that means they’re upset with each other for a while, then so be it.
These acts are essential because Caroline is determined to make a global difference. “It really matters when you’re young,” she says, “because once you get older, the world’s already better because you’ve made it better. When you’re younger, you can’t wait forever to do something good. You have to do it now because you might not always have that chance.” Her campaign to better the world ranges from picking up a piece of trash to standing up for a classmate who’s bullied; small steps and all that.
Of all the integers, the number “one” is the most important to Caroline. “One” is the least number of people she wants to help so she can feel like she’s done her duty for the ones she cares about. “It’s one person helps another person, and that kindness just keeps going,” she explains, a concept she calls the “kindness boomerang.” If she had a magic wand (or boomerang), she’d help far more than one person. She’d use its magic to assist families at her church in need and give all the spoils of the wand away to others who don’t have anything. Heck, she might even hand the entire wand over: “I'd probably give it to somebody who doesn’t have much or doesn’t have anything.” That’s the kind of calculus we can get behind: (1) selfless fifth grader + (1) enormous dose of empathy - waiting = change for the better.