Week 7: Building Relationships
Describe an interaction you’ve had with a summer rec youth. What did you learn about outreach with young people vs outreach with adults? What did you learn about that young person? Think about when you were their age. What are the areas of similarity/differences? If you haven’t connected with a summer rec youth in some way yet, why not? What steps will you take to connect before the summer is over?
I have the privilege of getting to know a young man in the community. Damon Johnson is quiet but strong. He is a natural athlete, a state and regional champion in track and field. He is undefeated in his track and field career. He was going to compete on the national level but did not go, because he had to be with his grandmother who was sick at the time. He believed he could have won the national title if he had a chance to compete. It just made me sick to hear that he did not have a chance to compete because nobody else was willing to be with his grandmother, even though there were other people available. I believe he did the right thing by staying with his grandmother, but it was unfortunate that other people in the family would not help out so he would have chance to reach his goal, his dream.
Just the other day, early in the morning, I called Damon at the last minute to come do yard work, because somebody did not show up to work. He lives in the Northside community and we were at BTSR. Within less than 10 minutes he appeared. I thought he had a ride but found out he ran. Damon said if you want something, you got to do what it takes to get it. I was impressed. The other day, I called him again to come to work because somebody did not show up, and within 5 minutes he was there. This young man showed up with a big smile. After work, I took him to dinner. We had Chinese food and talked about life and stuff. He said the thing he fears is that he will die young, and he does not want to have a family and have no one to provide for them. I was sad to hear him say that. My encouragement to him was that he has the power of God within him to overcome the cycle of negativity and poverty. I told him I would like to help him reach his goals. When I was 18 years old, the things I feared were trivial and materialistic. His world and mine at the age of 18 are totally different. I cannot imagine the obstacles and pressure that young men in this community experience. Damon and I have similarities in that we both are (I was) very athletic and soft spoken. I was not as gifted an athlete as he is. We both care for those who are forgotten and underprivileged. I am learning from him that my situation may be hard, but there are others who have face harder realities.
I would like to talk about the connection that I made with one of the youth’s in my group. His name is Marcus, he is a good kid but he is set up for failure. By that, I mean that everything around him is negative. His mother never has anything positive to say about him, and his brothers and sister are bad role models. Now this is not my first encounter with him. I have known him since he was 8 years old; so I have had a front row seat to a lot of the things that are going on in his life. But, in the last few months I have watched this young man cry out for help in the form of inappropriate behavior. I have taken him under my wing so to speak and watched him bloom in my presence, but regress just as soon as he leaves my sight. I have seen his mother do and say things to him that would affect a grown-up badly; let alone a kid. Yet, through it all he continued to show at everything that I asked him to show up at. But, there was one thing that for some reason he didn’t want to let go; that was the use of marijuana. Now since I am in recovery I have a biased view when it comes to doing mood altering substances, but today I kind of understood his rationale for doing it. I watched his mother push for him to be arrested, and didn’t take responsibility for the part that she plays in his life. I listened to this young man tell me about how he was hit by his mother to the point of being “tired of getting hit,” all because he questioned her decision to take him to a place that he was barred from and didn’t want to sit in a hot car in 90 degree heat and wait until whenever she decided to come out of the store. In her anger, she even threatened to hit him with a baseball bat. Knowing what I know about his home life, I can see why he would want something to allow him to cope with the idea of having to go “home.” The look on his face when I told him that he had to turn himself in at the police station is one that will stick with me the rest of my life. To look into the eyes of a kid that is crying out for help and nobody seems to listen is one that I know so well. Looking at him today took me back to the age of 14, when I was breaking into apartments stealing because I was under the pressure to do well in school, when I didn’t like school at all. The more I said that I didn’t like school, the more I was told that I had to go and that I had to excel. Dealing with this young man has let me know that it really takes a village to raise a child. Plus, when we deal with a kid’s behavior we may have to first deal with the behavior of the parents or members of the family in general. It is really sad that a kid’s life is put in jeopardy because his family is messed up. I don’t know how it would be different dealing with an adult; but I do believe that ” the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way; we need to show them all the beauty that they have inside; give them a sense of pride, and watch them grow.” If not, the system will be full of adults who are troubled kid’s. My bad, they already are!!!!!
I have connected with a few of the summer rec kids. I have connected with Monee and have been talking to her about some of the things she is going through as a teenager. I can relate, because I am only nineteen. She may have a baby now, but she wants to do all the things that normal teenagers do. I look at her and I see where I could have been also, but I am thankful that I had people around me who cared enough to tell me no. Talking to young people is much easier for me, because most of the time they think I am their age. They open up to me and that gives me comfort. Another person that I have connected with is Andrew, whose nickname is AJ. He likes to play and joke with me, because he is taller than me by an inch! He finds comfort in that. It is very easy for me to put myself in their shoes because I was sixteen three years ago, and I have been the shortest person ever since I left elementary school. It feels good when they come in and know my name, and immediately start talking to me as if they knew me for a long time. Those relationships are the ones that make everything worth it.
Working for Embrace has opened doors that I thought would be closed forever. I had forgotten that I am a people person. I like talking and getting to know the stories of others. It is in my nature to be a helpful person. I always like to take care of others. Working here, I discovered that I can use my gifts in so many ways and I don’t have to feel like I’m helping those in need, but helping them to discover their gifts as well.
So many people here in Hillside have that hopeless look that I had when I first moved here from NJ. Some of the children have never even been outside of these walls except to go to school. I want to be able to introduce them to things beyond their imagination. I am starting with cheerleading and football. I had given up on coaching cheerleading a long time ago. I always did it as a volunteer, because of the love of the sport, but I didn’t care for everything that came with it.
I was a little wary about starting a team here, because there is so much negativity, but I always look for the positive in every situation. I have a pretty good group of girls and I’m excited to see where this journey will take us…stay tuned!!
Although, I have not been able to interact with the kids very often, luckily, I have been able to form relationships with a few of them. I find it pretty easy to work with children when they are happy and hyper. There is one family of boys that I am especially close to. Their names are Michael, AJ, and Shaquan. Doing outreach with kids, for me at least, is always easier than doing outreach with adults. I find that children are a lot less cynical and a lot more open to what you are saying and doing. Most of the students that are in the preteen age range are also happy about everything. Yes, even the guys! In fact, I see a lot of myself in them when I was that age. I know that the relationships I’ve made with the kids will continue to grow throughout the rest of my time here, but since they’re too young for cell phones and facebook and I have to back to school, I know that it will probably be difficult to maintain contact.
Michael is a young kid around the age of 10 or 11 who visits our recreation center consistently. One day Michael came in angry at his older brother A.J., who also visits the rec center on a consistent basis. When it was time for summer rec to begin, Michael chose to stay out-side and pout. This gave me an opportunity to be of service, so I asked Michael what was wrong, because I noticed he was isolating himself. He pointed out that his older brother A.J. had taken the bicycle he wanted to ride to summer rec. He was really mad at A.J. and nothing that I could have said at that time could have made any difference, so I asked if he would help me set up for rec and he agreed. Before I could get the water jug out into the gym Michael, had forgotten all about his
anger towards his brother and proceeded to join in with the rest of the kids’ that were there for rec. I was amazed at how quickly diverting one’s attention in another direction could easily change the perspective of a situation. I was also amazed at how quickly I was left hanging with the set-up and no Michael! But, I’m glad to see him back into the swing of things.
I don’t think that there is much of a difference between the concept of out-reach with adults and out-reach with kids, they both require patience and perseverance. I think that it’s a matter of who and what the person is most suited for. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.
I can remember having a community rec center to enjoy growing-up. Looking back, that is where I learned a lot of my social activities. I can remember being the no.2 person on the tennis team. I also played a lot of recreation basketball and football. I can’t remember a better period in my life outside of participating in the many events associated with the community rec center.
A couple interactions I had with the summer rec youth include: playing basketball with them and talking to them on different levels as a coach and also as a role model. One thing I learned about outreach with the kids and the adults is that speaking with them can be a task because they seem to have different state of mind as far as what they want to participate or be involved in. Well specifically, I talked to all of the kids and got to learn a lot about all of them, but the one that really stood out to me was with A.J. I was joking around with them and I told them to bring their report cards and he was the only one to bring his which let me know that he’s not only good in basketball but also he makes good grades and very intelligent. He told me that when he grows up he wants to be in the army. When I think about when I was their age I definitely have to say I was very similar to most of the kids at the rec. I loved playing basketball and wanting to make everyone laugh. The difference was that I was more attentive and listened more to the grow ups around me. However, our students are improving everyday they come so that’s good.
I interacted with all the youth come to summer rec. James is my special project because we are somewhat alike. When I was his age I felt like I was an outsider. Especially when it came to sports, I was the one that people didn’t want to pick because I was too small. James is also small for his age. That’s why people our size have to be good and play extra hard to get noticed. Once people see the talent in you then that’s when things will become better. I learned that outreach with young people can be challenging, but in a good way. The adults are easier to connect with.