Glimmers of hope
For the past few weeks I have filled in as program director for our after school program. Betsy is back in town (she’s going to live here this summer-YAY!) and since her job hasn’t started yet, she babysits all afternoon for me, so that i can be with the kids in the program. BOY is it hard work. Danny and I talk about how we managed to get the “cream of the crop” in terms of having some of the hardest kids, from the roughest backgrounds. (one fourth grader, after getting made fun of, stormed off to the kitchen to retrieve a knife-fortunately one of our leaders was following close behind her and we ended up having a long talk about it) Anyways, I feel that much of what we do isn’t even about the program but just loving these kids and PARENTING them. They were never taught to respect people (people older them OR their peers) and they don’t really know what disciple is because some of their parents are so uninvolved in their lives (one of our teen workers reported that he sees several of our kids out at 1:00am and 2:00am just hanging out by themselves some nights). Having our afterschool program is like starting from square one in terms of teaching these kids how to respect people, how to listen, how to be kind and how to deal with negative emotions. One day I was tired of getting walked over so I decided that yelling would be the answer. I was super strict, (borderline mean) and I yelled alot. When I came home and told Danny my new tactic, he gently reminded me that our goal is not to just get them to listen and to do what we want, our goal is their hearts. And slowly but surely, as we continually show up and invest in their lives, I believe their hard hearts are and will continue to change. God is so gracious to allow us to see little glimmers of heart changes, and here are a few:
-> one girl, “Kellie” used to be SOO bad in my Sunday School class. (her mom is one of the Crip leaders in the projects) She would be absolutely unmanageable, go off on pouting sprees, pick fights with kids, and refuse to participate in the activities. But since she started the program, her behavior in my Sunday School class has changed DRASTICALLY. She participates, works hard on her assignments, and always volunteers to read. Last week, she was about to say something mean to one of the kids when she caught herself and stopped mid-sentence. I got really excited that she has shown self control (so excited that at first, she thought she was in trouble), and had chosen not to say something hurtful. This is HUGE for these kids because saying mean things to one another is as natural as breathing…I think half the time they don’t even realize how rude, mean spirited, and hurtful their comments are. Then today during Sunday School she was having a “relapse” in some of her bad attitudes and disrespect, so I told her she had to leave my class. She then joined in with another class’s craft and drew me a picture and wrote me a letter of apology for her behavior. This also is an enormous step…I don’t think that these kids even understood the concept of apology prior to coming to our church.
–>Another girl, “Debbie”, who is a ringleader for most of the kids and a big bully a lot of the time, has been absorbing Scripture and all the stories and facts that we have been teaching. This past week she disagreed with a way that I had disciplined another of our students and I got the typical attitude and “That ain’t fair!!! (If I got a nickle every time i heard that phrase, Danny and I could buy our own house!) I told her I was the leader, she doesn’t understand everything, and I wasn’t about to explain myself to her, and then just let it be. Forty five minutes later, she came up to me and told me she was sorry for having an attitude.
–> One of our teen leaders, at our weekly meeting, really “got” it as we did a Bible study and we questioned WHY we are doing what we do. He immediately said “LOVE!!”. He said there is no other explanation for why Danny and I would put up with what we do, other than love. And he also declared that love was the only thing that would change these kids. (Note- we don’t require our teen staff to be believers, but based on his responses, it seems that our “Jesus-time” and our devotionals are sinking in to his heart as well as the kids.
–> One kid, “Damon”, who gives us the most trouble, broke down and wept last week and opened up about his grandmother dying. Many of these kids grandmothers do more loving and nurturing than their own mothers do. I was encouraged to see him finally opening up and getting to the “why” of his behavior.
–> “Ken” got in trouble one day, and had to be in time out so I sat down with him to try to talk things out, but I then got distracted by two other kids who were fighting and disrespecting me. After I dealt with them, Ken came up to me and said, “Miss Kimberly, I thought we were going to have a talk.” My babysitter had to leave so I took him over to my house to have our “talk”. This resulted in four other kids lining up at my back door so that they could have a “talk” with Miss Kimberly. This whole ordeal made me realize even more, that negative behavior is just a ploy to get some attention. If they are bad, then they will get pulled aside and have to have a heart to heart with one of the leaders, with the leader giving them their undivided attention. Undivided attention, especially the calm kind, is a priceless rarity in their lives.