Twists and Turns Without Any U-Turns
Life is full of a series of twists and turns, missteps and wrong steps, but there is really never a U-turn. When I would say things like that to my children, my girls would give me a “Sure Dad!” …the boys would respond with something like, “REALLY?” This past week has been no exception to that statement.
This was the beginning of summer break for approximately 75% of the students we tutor, while the others are enrolled in year-round school. The Refugee Network elected to offer tutoring throughout the summer in an effort to help the refugee children further close the gaps in their studies. The program was launched with minor twists that required a bit of flexibility on the part of the volunteers and staff, while remaining totally transparent to the students.
I was even blessed with the opportunity to pick up six children at two different housing complexes in a part of town that I was totally unfamiliar with. I was provided a hand-drawn map and very clear instructions. As I drove across town, my mind raced on a series of “what if’s?”… I get the wrong children?, There are more children than the van has seat belts?, Will their parents release them to go with me?…and back to, What if I pick up the wrong children? I was feeling some of that uncertainty that the Hebrews must have felt when they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness after their release by the Pharaoh of Egypt. I did what Moses had those people do….I went through my favorite prayer in time of stress and drove on.
When I arrived at the first location, one of the staff members, who was scheduled to be off that afternoon, was standing in the parking lot smiling from ear to ear. Prayers are answered in many ways, some I never even imagine!!! She had five students with her who she helped into the van and told me not to worry about the other three children I was scheduled to pick up… other arrangements were made. Again, I sighed relief as the van is only able to carry driver +6. Before I drove on, I offered the eldest child, I’ll call her Pat, the opportunity to be my assistant. Her eyes brightened and she said, “With pleasure, yes of course”. A couple of the other students wanted the job, but graciously accepted my offer to provide the opportunity to someone else next time. Pat translated something and the passengers giggled a bit and then settled in for the 20 minute ride over to the tutoring center.
We had more students for tutoring than we expected as this is a new offering for the kids and regular SCHOOL ENDED last week. We were pleased with the turnout and it took all the creative energy of the coordinator to provide a meaningful experience for the students and a value-add feeling for the volunteers.
One of the volunteers bought planting material, a planting pot, soil and seeds for each student. The students were divided into groups of 10 where he explained how to properly plant the seeds, how they should care for their project, and what they should expect to see happen over the next several weeks. Each child put their name on the plant (to be) and stored them in the box that had the driver’s name.
My assistant, Pat, was quick to gather the other four students, who came in our van and explained the process to them. Watching these young people part with their planting, even though it would only be until they got home, created a picture of love, protection, and concern for their project. It was clear that they will do whatever they can to help their plant come to life and bear fruit.
After snacks, Pat gathered the other children riding in our van and helped each one find their seat, put their seatbelt on and asked them to be quiet for the ride home (I THINK) as it was so quiet in the van you could’ve heard a pin drop. Yes my friends, the children and their plants returned home, and once out of the van their giggling resumed and the interchange between parents and children was clearly all about the new life of the plant they had taken responsibility for.
The Network is planning to incorporate various fun/learning activities that will balance the tutoring time with their class assignments to provide experiences with music and art, and chess and for the older (7th grade plus) children. We will be having interactive discussions on values and positive decision-making. There are wonderful volunteer opportunities for people interested in helping these young friends learn and grow right here in San Diego.
The day following the planting project, one of the Case Managers informed me that one of the families she supports told her a child’s disappointment when he found that the new life (planting) they were helping into existence was going to be a “bean plant” and that was all he had to eat in the refugee camp and really would have preferred to grow a flower. We, as fellow humans, have so much to learn and understand about the people we come in contact with.
A significant portion of the student population will be sponsored to attend a week at summer camp, which will give the children experiences in nature, away from home, with professional camp counselors and “fun managers”. An opportunity came about when it was discovered that the 30+ sleeping bags that the children will be using (12 to 15 each week) were in need of cleaning and repacking. Not wanting to detract from the ongoing work supporting the refugee population with food, tutoring, Doctor and other professional visits, I made some calls and had immediate support, from a local church, to wash all of the sleeping bags in time for the initial departure, and steps are underway to share this project with other youth groups throughout the Diocese on a weekly basis to ensure that each child has a clean sleeping bag, towel and backpack to use during their camping adventure.
We have not yet been able to identify one or more volunteers with a pickup truck to help increase the amount of food the Network will be able to distribute. We would love to hear from someone who would be willing to be available with a pickup truck on Tuesday mornings from 7 AM until about 11 AM…this would be a huge blessing.
One of the case managers, who had returned from maternity leave last week, sat with me for a chat during which she wanted to find out how to have her new baby baptized. We talked about the responsibility of the parent and the need for her to speak with her priest. She admitted that she was uncomfortable because she did not know the custom in this country. I offered to get her a book, and work with her and her husband, so they would be more comfortable when they meet with their priest. She is well on the way to being a perfect example of what God expects from parents.
Last week I shared the story of the homeless man who wanted to help tutor the refugee children, and what an impact it made on many of us. It also had an impact on this young man, as he returned again this week. Unfortunately he was not able to provide his assistance when he came to help, as the “process” had not been completed. I remain confident and prayerful that this situation will be corrected… there are no U-turns in life.