BY SUSAN KNICKERBOCKER
Each year, the South Whidbey Record features a Hometown Hero selected by South Whidbey schools. The 2017 senior is Bayley Gochanour.
What is something we all can give, no matter our talents, our lot in life, healthy or ill, poor or wealthy? Bayley Gochanour’s mission statement for her life is to spread kindness, everyday.
She says, “There is enough pain and suffering in the world. Everyone is carrying some pain that we can’t see. Mark Twain wrote, ‘Kindness is the language which the blind can see and the deaf can hear.’ Regardless of the situation, we could all use a little extra kindness in our day.”
Gochanour lives in a small comfy house with her dad, Donny, and mom, Jenny. Lounging close by are Smokey, a gray cat, and Tessie, a large black lab that’s seated in his own overstuffed chair. Donny, close by, is making dinner, and says, ‘Ready.’
All sit down at the kitchen nook, and hold hands while Jenny says grace. It’s one she learned growing up from her grandparents, Gordy and Kitty Adams.
Tessie and Smokey move to the kitchen nook area too, hoping for some scraps.
After dinner, all sit around the coffee table. Tessie is back in her chair, whining because the cat is being petted. All laugh and agree pets are entertaining.
Gochanour is animated using her hands to talk, while swiveling back and forth on her chair, feet tapping. Her enthusiasm spills out as she speaks and smiles at the same time.
Gochanour says, “I learned kindness from this community of caring people. Individually and as a group, this community is always helping people.”
She had an opportunity to go to two youth leadership conferences that also inspired her. After each one, she came back with ideas and organized clubs and events such as the Random Acts of Kindness Club, which she calls RAK. One of the RAK ideas was making hand-written, simple folded paper cards to fellow students. The RAK members would write personalized notes for each student, and discreetly deliver them. The cards had messages like, ‘”Hope your test goes well today” or “Thinking about you with your try outs this week.” She was pleased by the response and how most students really took the notes to heart.
She and the RAK Club also constructed the Compliment Wall. Made of posterboard, one side had the message, ‘Take what you need” the other side, “Give what you take.”
On the take-what-you-need side were taped circles containing compliments such as, “Your smile lights up the room”or “You are a superstar!” Each one was different. On the other side were blank taped circles where people could write their own sayings.
“We didn’t know if the idea would take off,” Gochanour said. “I was so pleased, when at lunch I noticed students and teachers walking around with them taped to their shirts, bags and pants; and at the end of the day, the wall was empty.”
Around the same time, she and a friend, Thandeka Brigham, started Passport Pals, a Langley Library monthly cultural presentation complete with crafts. She also wrote a curriculum for a mentorship program through which junior and senior student volunteers are matched up with incoming freshmen. The goal is for freshmen to feel more included and part of the high school family.
Gochanour’s mom Jenny says, “Bayley literally took every free moment during her entire summer to write this curriculum and plan the student matches.”
Gochanour says, “I could not have done it without the amazing help and support from Vice Principal Paul Lagerstedt, ASB advisor Heidi Marshall, and LMS counselor Janet Hunter. She’s made sure this program continues once she graduates this year, and is training seven students to take it over.”
Last summer, Gochanour went on a travel and service-project trip her mother organized.
Gochanour says, “We had the privilege of working with a group of people in an extremely impoverished neighborhood in the outskirts of Lima, Peru, which lacked electricity and running water. These people were so kind, hospitable, gracious and joyful, despite their harsh living conditions.”
This neighborhood, however, is separated from one of the wealthiest districts in Lima by a 6-mile-long, 10-foot-tall cement wall, known by some as the “Wall of Shame.” Each morning, the workers from the poor side have to go through a check point at the wall to go to work, complete with a patrol tower.
“Throughout our visit, as we watched the children play soccer on dirt roads and parents visit in dark buildings, our world changed dramatically,” she said. “Happiness is something that I believe comes from appreciation and gratitude. I was absolutely and thoroughly inspired by the resilience, graciousness, and unconditional kindness shown to us by all those who we met, despite their living conditions and surrounding environment. I came back with a renewed awareness of gratitude and the reminder to never take things for granted. I was also reminded of the importance of treating others with respect, kindness, and dignity, just as we were treated by these gracious and hospitable Peruvians. They changed my life and my perspective on the world. I feel so blessed and fortunate to have had that experience.”
Gochanour is a champion for the oppressed, bullied and those who feel left out. She says, “Being kind doesn’t mean you don’t speak out when someone is not treated right. It’s advocating for everyone, regardless of who they are, how well I know them, or what their situation is. One of my main goals is to let everyone know that they are valued, appreciated, and that they have a place at our school and in this world. That was one of my main goals through RAK Club.”
Recently, RAK Club began a project called “Kindness Rocks,” in which students are nominated and recognized for performing Random Acts of Kindness, and helping to fulfill this goal.
“Bayley is the kindest person I know,” says Bailey Forsyth, a friend since third grade.” Even back when we were kids still trying to figure everything out, she put everyone around her before herself. Bayley has completely given herself to the act of bettering everything and including everyone that surrounds her. As ASB president, she’s constantly spitting out new ideas to get the whole school involved in activities. Her dedication and determination to see the good in every last person and situation has always amazed me. I honestly don’t know where I would be today if she wasn’t a part of my life.”
A few years ago, Gochanour heard the poem, “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis. She now knows it by heart. Here’s a basic summary: It’s not about what we own but how we spend our life treating others. To try to understand how people feel. And to think of how your eulogy will read. Will you be happy with what is said of how you lived?
She thinks of her grandfather, Papa Gordy.
“He suffered from a brain tumor, but he was always kind, always showed courage with grace. He loved his family so much. He lived his DASH (life) in a way that inspired me tremendously. He taught me to live my life to the fullest no matter what happens.”
“My sophomore year was a particularly hard one for me. My Papa Gordy passed away, and the same year, my dad was rushed to the hospital and was not expected to live. During this time, I was walking down the school corridor, and Kohl Hunter, asked how I was doing. I responded with my usual and cheerful, ‘Great!’ But he stopped me and said, ‘No, Bayley, how are you actually doing?’ His caring and kindness made a huge difference to me at a time when I really needed it. I won’t ever forget that, or the importance and power of a genuine, thoughtful conversation.”
Another example of a RAK is when a fellow student, Corbynne Jester, went to the Dead Sea in Israel. She found a whole bunch of shells on the beach there and drew a little heart on each one to give out. These RAKs makes such a difference in someone’s day.”
South Whibey High School student Kinsey Eager, writes, “Bayley has always been the kind of friend I go to when I need someone to talk to about everything. The thing I admire about her is that she’s not just welcoming like this with only her friends; she welcomes anyone with open arms who needs a person to confide in. She will drop whatever she is doing to listen. She has overcome so much in her life. Bayley inspires me in so many ways I can’t even count.”
Gochanour says, “We have all overcome pain and hardships in our life. It’s about learning from them in a healthy, constructive way.”
“I’m sure you can throw a stone anywhere on South Whidbey and hit someone who has experienced Bayley’s kindness,” says Mom and volunteer, Teresa Forsyth.
“She is kind to all, sometimes to people that don’t deserve it in other’s eyes, which is called grace. With Bayley there is no judgement, not an easy thing to do being a teenager living in a small community,” says Forsyth. “You could bake her cat-crap cookies, and if you are sincere with your good intentions, she’d thank you profusely.”
“Recently I was working on a grad night fundraiser and becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of parent involvement. I asked Bayley, ‘Don’t you get frustrated always being the one doing all the work?’ And she immediately replied, “Nope, it’s always worth it. It’s always worth it.”
“The world is getting a supernova when it comes to Bayley.”
Gochanour wishes the world could be kinder.
“If everyone chose kindness and love, and treated others the way that they themselves wanted to be treated, what a wonderful place the world would be, right? Regardless of the way things work out, that is the kind of world that I will strive to create.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT BAYLEY
“She had a special closeness with Gordy. I remember at his memorial service, she spoke of how often people said to her they wished she had known him when he was well and she thought he had an even greater impact on her life as he determinedly made the best of his circumstances.
She bravely tamed the big ram by rubbing his nose and tenderly fed our dog, piece-by piece his last meal. As she grew older, Bayley was most often the one who rushed over to give a hand-up to a fallen player, friend or competitor.
The way she quietly held her Papa’s hand with a loving presence for hours as he lay dying is an example of her strength of character.
Last fall as Bayley led a pep assembly, her integrity required her to break with the tradition of awarding first place to her fellow seniors after they cheated in the relay race. She could not condone cheating.”
Kitty Adams, Bayley’s grandma
“Bayley is a ray of sunshine, always chipper and kind. She helps everyone around her be positive. If she has ever been down or upset, she never shows it. Bailey helps our students work on their homework, she works always encouraging them to keep trying and never give up on themselves. She will go out of her way to include everyone. “
Diane Chin, SWHS teacher
On the tennis court, Bayley Gochanour is a coach’s dream. Her commitment skills and records are impressive. But what I appreciate even more is Bayley’s influence on our tennis program. Younger players follow Bayley; her genuine kindness and soaring spirit is magnetic. The impact that Bayley has had as captain and a player on our program’s success and individual players’ experiences is immeasurable.”
Karyle Kramer, SWHS teacher and coach
“I love Bayley. She is the sweetest, kindest girl I know. I have known her since she was a baby and have been her Sunday school teacher since sixth grade. Bayley is friendly to everyone; she brings joy into a room. She sparkles and definitely lets her little light shine, living her life as a Christian.”
Diane Fraser, volunteer
“She has an uplifting spirit that can change an environment or situation with her electric personality by her mere presence. She is a believer and a doer. I do believe she was born with invisible wings. I became very ill a couple of years ago, and doctors held little hope for my recovery. I believe it was my little angel, Bayley, that got me through it.
This poem reminds me of Bayley.
Always have eyes that see the best
A heart that forgives the worst,
A mind that forgets the bad,
and a soul that never loses faith.”
Donny Gochanour, Bayley’s dad
“Bayley inspires me every day. She goes out of her way to help others, even when (and perhaps especially when) she is having a rough day herself. She is wise, kind, fun, thoughtful, generous, funny and always grateful. She doesn’t take things for granted, and has an amazingly broad perspective for her age. Bayley is an incredibly hard worker. She puts 100 percent into everything she does and is motivated to be her best self and to give her best effort. I am so lucky to be her mom!”
Jenny Gochanour, Bayley’s mom
“Bayley tutors my eighth grade daughter, Anna. She comes to our home every week, and she’s the best role model my daughter could ever have. She is a gifted math teacher, and inspires my daughter to become the best she can be. Bayley has encouraged and given my daughter the capabilities and confidence she needs to go onto to high school next year without fears. They have a real sweet relationship. I also know Bayley as a teacher, as she has been my teacher’s assistant for the last two years. She been such a gifted role model for my students as well. If she were my daughter, I would be so proud.”