This past summer I had the opportunity to work at a childcare center in southeast Colorado Springs as a summer camp leader. The center caters mostly to low-income families who are on CCAP (Child Care Assistance Program). Now I absolutely love working with my middle class kids at church, but I was really excited to take part in this summer camp because the kids at the center are the kinds of kids I will most likely be working with as a teacher. I figured it would be good experience.
These kids aren’t your average kids. Most of them have been through much more in their short lives than many of us will ever go through. Their parents work two jobs, are never home, fight with each other, don’t bring home enough money for necessities, etc. You get the picture. They are extremely hard to work with and can frustrate you beyond all belief within seconds. They definitely know how to push your buttons. There were days when I was just in awe of how much they could frustrate me. But even though they could make my life and job more difficult than I could imagine, they could also make it worth all of the frustrations.
In my three months at the center, I learned more about working with kids in that kind of situation than I ever had previously. I have always been one who is determined to get a kid to like me, not because I need their approval, but I honestly want to have a deeper relationship with them. I’ll do just about anything to get the child to let me in. For some of them, it was extremely easy. All I had to do was play one game of dodgeball with them and I was their favorite person in the world. For others, it took longer. For a select few they would let me in only to push me out after and it happened again and again with those few. They would let me in and we would be buddies for a few days and then all of a sudden something would happen and their attitudes toward me would change completely. Some of the other counselors had warned me about what had happened in these kids short lives, but it didn’t really hit me until I heard the kids themselves talk to me about it. Several had parents who fought so badly that they didn’t have much furniture anymore because it had all been broken in fits of rage. Others had parents in jail who they rarely saw. It tore my heart apart to hear it, but it made me fight harder for the kids too. One of the easiest kids to befriend was a little boy named Joe. He and his sister, Zoe who was also latched onto me, were from a very interesting home situation. Zoe always had tired eyes like she never got enough sleep and was rather quiet compared to most of the kids. Joe was just a sweetheart. He latched onto me his first day at the center. He begged and begged me to let him sit by me on the bus and usually fell asleep on my lap during long rides to and from field trips. In a lot of ways he reminded me of my own brother, Nathan. He was small and had the most adorable smile. Everybody liked Joe. He’s also the kid in the picture to the right under Isaiah 1:17 just so you know. I remember him telling me one day that he wished he could come home with me and hide in my suitcase when I left for school. One of my other sweethearts was named Angel. She is almost an exact replica of me when I was her age. She loves soccer, plays with boys more than girls, and even looks like I did. She was one that I had to work on a little bit before she trusted me. I will never forget how happy I was when she finally decided I was worthy though. I got to know Angel very well by the end of the summer. She, like Joe was always asking to sit next to me on the bus. Before Joe got there, she was the kid who normally sat by me on the bus. I learned a lot about Angel’s family over the summer. Her dad was in jail and had been there for a while, though I don’t know what for. I knew she missed him and that it was hard for her at home. She had an older sister and a younger brother who picked on her. She was also picked on at the center and she was very sensitive. A lot of times I would end up holding her while she cried because of something that another kid had said or what was going on at home. It was so hard to watch and not be able to do anything for her. And then there was Tony. Tony….goodness what do I say about him? He was one of my hardest and most frustrating kids all summer. We actually started off well. We began our friendship through soccer (of course) and it went well for a while. He was my helper during lunch and would do everything from pass out plates and cups to picking up food off the floor after everyone was done. He was supposed to be my easy kid….and I needed an easy kid because for some reason, my boss decided to put all the trouble makers in my group. HA! Me, the one who doesn’t like to yell or have to be really mean with kids and I got the hard ones. Tony made me cry often during the summer. In the beginning like I said he was a good kid. He helped, he colored me pictures practically every day. He even brought me gifts from home. We had a good relationship. Then something changed and our relationship went sour. He began to be a bully to the other kids and refused to obey me. It was like he had changed overnight. I still to this day cannot figure out what really caused it. I knew his home life was extremely tough and his brother beat on him often, but I just couldn’t get him back. It really did make me cry, even once at the center when I just couldn’t hold it back. I wanted so much to be able to love on him and help him grow in his good character qualities but he just wouldn’t let me anymore. It hurt…badly. Towards the end of the summer, Tony and many of the other kids went to the overnight camp the church where the center was housed had put on for them and Tony accepted Christ. I could see a small difference in his life after that, but he still wouldn’t rekindle our friendship. It makes me so sad to think about it because I would do anything for him. I miss seeing his wonderful, boyish smile. I wish things would have ended differently with him, but I hope that the next time someone comes into his life the way I tried that he will let them in fully.
It was a hard summer. I was tested a lot by the kids and by my boss. A LOT by my boss in fact. I think that this past summer was one of the most emotionally draining times I have ever been through, one of the hardest times for me. But even though I went through a lot at that job that was not pleasant, there was also joy at the same time. I loved my co-workers. We could all make each other cheer up in a matter of minutes and we had each other’s backs always. And then there were the kids. Even though my heart broke because of them and for them, they still filled me with joy every day. It’s the reason I kept going back. I knew I could help make a difference in their lives, but I didn’t realize how much they would affect my life. They could brighten a bad day with just a hug and a simple “I love you, Miss Sarah”. It was those times where we had some great talks about Christ that meant the most to me. When they asked questions and were truly involved and interested in the conversation. I don’t know if I can even explain how they made such a difference in my life. Maybe it was just that I finally knew for sure that God was calling me to work with underprivileged kids or whatever. I don’t know, but it was an experience that I will never forget. They reminded me that it is the little things in life that can make the difference. That a simple hug and a quick expression of their love can change my outlook on the day; that taking time to really invest in relationships can be the difference in a child’s life; and that no matter what happens in your life, you have to keep going even if all you can do is crawl.