As I begin to write about my summer, I cannot believe it is already August 1. As my summer comes to an end, I can honestly say that it’s been the best one I’ve had in a long time. I spent many days with my family including going to a family reunion, celebrating my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and cheering on my cousin as she competed in the Miss Georgia pageant. I celebrated my 20th birthday with a fancy brunch in Atlanta with some of my favorite people. I caught up with my friends, read some great books, and my hometown has simply treated me well this summer. The most memorable experience this summer, however, would be the nine weeks I spent working with a local nonprofit for their summer academy program. This experience challenged me and taught me a lot about Education, children, social issues, and myself. After taking a few days to process this experience, I’m excited to share my journey with anyone interested to read. It may be a little lengthy, so I hope you have about 20 minutes to spare 🙂
[Due to privacy concerns, I will not be disclosing the name of the organization in this particular post. However, if you are interested in learning more about their programs please don’t hesitate to contact me via the contact tab or my twitter. ]
Before coming home for the summer, I knew I wanted to find a summer job. I also knew that I wanted to find a job related to Education, so I hoped to find a camp counselor job or a babysitting job. Something with kids so I would serve in an area I enjoyed. During my first three weeks at home, I applied for countless jobs. I heard back from a few, but my heart wasn’t in the right place for those. I really had my heart set on a job at a local summer camp I attended as a kid, but I unknowingly applied past the deadline. I was discouraged, but I kept praying and trusting God that I would find something soon.
I then remembered seeing a posting for the job for which I was later hired. In the posting it said they were looking for someone at least 20 years old. I was only 19 at the time, so I just thought “oh well” and didn’t bother looking into the job. After talking to my mom and sister, they motivated me to call anyways. My birthday would fall during the job anyways, so I was practically already 20. So, I called on a Monday morning and asked if they were still hiring. The receptionist said that she believed they still were, so I came in and filled out an application. A few hours later, the Director called me and asked me to come in that same day for an interview. So, I put on my lucky blazer (yes I have a lucky blazer) and went in for the interview.
I’d heard of the organization and I was vaguely familiar with their mission. The mission of this organization is to help families out of poverty and it’s also a Christian organization, so the organization teaches these families about God and helps them to develop a relationship with God. Upon learning this, I immediately wanted to be involved.
Thankfully, a week or so later I got a call saying I was hired. I want to thank my supervisor, the Program’s director, for believing in me because I soon learned once I began working there that I was the youngest employee. I’m thankful that he found me capable and mature enough to handle this job.
II. “Enough about the introduction, Nicole! Tell us about the job”
After a week of training, the children (ages 5-15?) arrived on June 5. We’d be spending eight weeks together from 9AM-6PM. The days were long and the energy was high. I remember being so exhausted after my first day. I honestly thought “1 day down 39 days to go” which isn’t the best perspective to have, but I was very exhausted. I then reminded myself that I have the privilege of working with incredible young people and this experience will be what I make of it, so I made sure to get a full night’s rest that night.
My favorite part of the job was its fast paced schedule. We were constantly moving and I can confidently say that every child that walked through those doors enjoyed themselves. Two staff members were placed together and were responsible for their own group. My co-teacher (who’s also an Education major) and I got the 5-6 year olds! I don’t mean to brag, but we were the luckiest ones 🙂 Our group, though they were rowdy at times, were precious children who managed to put a smile on our faces each day. Also: My co-teacher is the best. We couldn’t of made a better team, so thank you for taking me under your wing if you’re reading this.
Here’s what a typical day looked like:
9:15-9:45- Devotion (The chaplain typically lead the devotion, but occasionally, one of us got the chance to lead the devotion)
9:45-10:45- Room time (There were a few themed rooms, such as computer lab and an arts and crafts room, so the kids would rotate to each room throughout the day)
10:45-12:00- Gym Time
1:00-1:30- Bible Time (My co-teacher and I would alternate leading the bible time for our small group)
1:30-3:45- More room time (We’d rotate through the other three rooms)
3:45-4:45- Dinner Time (Food Insecurity is a serious issue that’s often overlooked. The children at our program were able to eat three meals a day which is incredible)
4:45-6:00- more play time until the parents arrived
*A busy day as you can see! I wanna take a nap just thinking about it!*
But our kids kept us going! They helped us keep the energy up. It was fun being able to come up with my own lesson plans every now and then, such as having them making their own slime, teaching them about various cultures such as French culture (they love Stromae’s song Papatouai now), and allowing God to lead me through this experience. I never thought I was qualified enough to be leading Sunday School lessons, but I thoroughly enjoyed leading “bible time” and teaching the kids about bible stories and how they can serve the Lord regardless of their age.
1. No amount of past camp experiences or education classes can fully prepare for your first day in a new setting. Each experience is different as there are different kids each time.
2. Start off a little stricter than you normally would. Because I was the youngest and one of the new people to join staff, I had to earn the kids’ respect. (Also: never tell them your age!) Some of them thought I was 25 some of them thought I was 30. Not too pleased about the 30 estimate haha
3.Variety is good! Some days were quiet movies days, some days we danced to nursery rhyme Youtube videos, some days we played outside, some days we read them stories and did corresponding activities. Keep them interested.
4.Keep it tidy! Start teaching students at a young age to clean up after themselves. Make cleaning fun! We’d have a countdown and they’d race to clean up the space.
5.Keep an eye out for bullying. Believe it or not, it can start in an age group as young as this one.
6. Put trash bags over tables if you’re doing a messy activity! We learned this the hard way after making paper mache masks.
7.Reinforce good behavior! Don’t just focus on the negative. Tell their parents that their child had a good day. Don’t always look to point out the negative.
8.Get to know your kids. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Learn their stories. They’re humans! Not just children in desks. The sooner you build a relationship with them the better.
9. Little kids freak out about someone taking their spot in line or not being the line leader. It was a headache at times, so you could make it fun sometimes by lining them up by their birth months, height, etc.
10. Get to know their parents.
11. Pour into children! Be their support system.
12. Each day is a clean slate. There were days where I was mentally and physically exhausted. There were days when certain kids in our group were acting out and wouldn’t seem to cooperate, but each day is a new chance to have a good day. Give them grace and try again.
13. Lastly, laugh. You’re not perfect. You’re gonna have great days and you’re gonna have uh not so great days… I remember the kids kept asking to make slime, so I finally gave in and bought the supplies. As we were making it, it just wasn’t turning out right. I put way too much glue and was eyeballing all the ingredients honestly. It was so runny and the kids wanted to mix all the colors… so we ended up with extremely runny dark green “slime”.
We just laughed it off and decided to try again another time.
14. And have fun! Remember why you’re there in the first place. It’s to make a difference in the lives of children. It’s to show them that they matter. To show them that they’re important. At the end of the day, our boss always reminded us that we were basically getting paid to play with kids, so you can’t beat that!
This experience was life changing. I got to work alongside children I may not have otherwise met. I got to see how children in poverty live firsthand and learn their stories. I may not have helped them financially, but I was able to give the kids a place to come and have fun and be a kid. No kid should have to worry about what they’re going to eat for dinner or where they’re going to lay their head that night.
As I reflect on this experience, I began unpacking my own privileges as a black woman who attends college and is able to work. I developed a greater appreciation for my transportation, food, shelter, and clothes. I’ve always been appreciative of my blessings, but we all need to check ourselves sometimes. The more I study Socioeconomic Status (SES) and race issues here in America I realize that the most effective and lasting service in my opinion is forming meaningful relationships with those you are serving. Sure, donations are great and encouraged! Volunteering for a few hours is wonderful and encouraged! However, I believe it shouldn’t end there. We should keep checking in. We should keep serving (if we are able to). Anything counts and helps. Even just giving someone a shoulder to lean on and providing some resources to help them. Our goal is to help people escape poverty. To end the cycle. To provide not just equality but also equity.
This experience put everything into perspective for me. I had a child in my group here one day and gone the next. His family had a forced move because his mother was no longer able to pay the rent. I never saw him again. This challenged me to make sure that I am putting in the effort to get to know these children and their stories.
There were days when I wished the hours were shorter and that I could crawl into bed and just watch Netflix. I’m not gonna sugarcoat anything with this post. This job was challenging, but knowing that I was stepping into my purpose and hopefully making the difference in at least one child’s life kept me going.
So what’s next?
A spark has been set under my feet to continue serving in my community. I’m excited to see what’s to come.
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(featured image:https://work4christ.wordpress.com/category/new-testament/colossians/ )