Thursday, March 12, 2009

volunteer time

I volunteered after work today.

Little boy with the bright smile gets sad when I have to leave. He is about 5 or 6. We read books. He made me read Dr. Seuss at lightning speed and laughed all the way through.

They had just transitioned from the playroom to snack time, so it was a good moment for me to leave. I told him I was going. He gets a sad look on his face and says, "Why do you have to goooo?" I said that I have to go home and eat dinner. He said, "Are you coming back?" I said I would come tomorrow (and I will.) He said, "When? Early?" I said it would be later in the day. He was still sad when I said goodnight and left.

And it made me really wonder - is it a good thing for these kids for me to come, play with them for a little while, give them some loving attention and then leave?

They have just been yanked out of their homes and their world probably feels chaotic and scary. They have staff people rotating in and out of their lives every day as each shift changes. They watch other children come and go - the new kid today could be gone tomorrow. The are kept safe and clean and fed, but nothing in their lives is stable or predictable.

So am I just another unstable element in their lives? I show up for a few hours a week, play with them and always leave. And I can't usually promise that I'll be back the next day.

I have to tell myself that it does benefit the kids or I wouldn't be able to do it. The staff people have to focus a lot of their energy on running the place and they can't always give their full attention to being with the children. I can play with them, talk to them and just be with them. They can have my full attention while I am there.

I have to believe that any small, kind gesture - a hug, telling them that they did a good job, reading books together - can have a positive impact. I can't change their lives or fix their difficult situations. I can only offer brief moments of kindness and love - and hope that it will bring some small measure of peace into their unsettled lives.

The next day

I went back after work the next day. The 6-year-old was still there and he ran up to me to give me a hug as soon as he saw me. I just want to fold him up, put him in my pocket and take him home.

Later in the evening his older sister came over to say goodnight. She is staying in one of the other sections with kids her age. I am so happy to know that he has an older sister in his life. So relieved that he is not going through this completely on his own.


Bethany said...

He's not alone either, because of you. Thanks for making me cry. YES it matters, of course it does, every single moment someone is kind to us, offers their attention and care matters, no matter what age we are, but ESPECIALLY at that age, especially in those circumstances. I'm so happy to hear you are doing this. I want to hug you too.

Susan said...

Kathy, They will not remember you specifically, or the book you read, or the specific feeling of what it was like to hug you... but it is a scientific fact that children require touch, laughter, socialization, eye contact, to be read to and to have human stimulation. Their brains need it as much as there hearts do and if you can think of it as stimulating the little neurons in their brains to develop pathways which will make them healthy adolescents and later adults... this may help you to understand your role. You are amazing and I'm so proud of you!! Susan