Three afternoons a week, I tutor kids at a local nonprofit. I do other small jobs for this nonprofit, too–mainly advertising type stuff–and it’s been really great to see the inside workings of everything, because one day soon I’d love to start a nonprofit that provides underprivileged kids with the opportunity to play softball at a low cost and hear about Jesus. I’ve learned a lot from working at this nonprofit, and today I’m here to share some of the things I’ve learned. I’ll spare you the boring details of grant writing and jump right into the cute kid stuff instead. For more information about the nonprofit, here’s an article that I recently wrote for a local publication–Next Generation Focus: Power to Dream.
Hispanic kids living in Georgia think that less than zero white people are capable of speaking Spanish.
I’ve read forms from school, spoken to parents, and clarified myself in Spanish, and every time it’s been a genuine pray-to-Jesus miracle. Third-grade A: “How did you know what my mom said?!” Fifth-grade L: “You want to read my handout? But–it’s in Spanish.” Our resident 6th grader, I, pulled off her headphones one day and exclaimed, “That was really good Spanish. Who said that?” Upon learning it was me, her mouth fell open, and she even went so far as to ask where I was born. Where does it look like I was born? Maybe my favorite was fourth-grade J: “What does ‘caution’ mean?” I told him it means “be careful,” and he stared at me blankly; I said “cuidado,” and his face LIT up. “You speak Spanish?! I speak Spanish at home, but at school, no one understands me!” It made him so happy that I spoke to him only in Spanish, whenever possible, for the rest of the day. He beamed every time.
Choose your words carefully.
“Hurry and pack up, your mom is about to be here,” I said without thinking. One little third-grader crossed her arms and said witheringly, “I live with my grandma. One parent is dead and I’m not going to see my other parent again because they’re in prison.” That was a mistake I only made once.
Maybe it feels like you’re not getting through to the hard kids. But you are.
The same little girl who schooled me on my assumption regarding her parents is cute and funny and smart, but one of the harder kids to handle. She moans and groans her way through homework and has a stubborn streak that regularly displays itself. But one day, as we wrote sentences on the whiteboard with intentional mistakes for the other person to fix, she wrote, “Ms. Hailey is soo nice and sweet.” In return, I wrote, “J is going to do big things in life.” Because I know she is.
Alexander Graham Bell was homeschooled.
I found out this nugget of information while helping fifth-grade L research a school project. However, I didn’t announce it aloud, because that would’ve triggered yet another endlessly long conversation about what homeschooling was and how it worked and why wasn’t I in college again?
Remember all the little things.
“Guess what I was for Halloween,” said one little girl on a rainy November day. I gave her a funny look. “You were an angel. You told me on Tuesday.”
“Oh,” she said. “Yeah. I thought you would forget.”
Hidden talents abound.
One fifth-grader is reticent in person. She’s Malaysian, somber, and serious–I couldn’t tell you what her smile looks like. But her writing is brilliant. WOW. Her personality really shines through, and it’s vivacious and wonderful and hilarious! When I told her one day to write about her most embarrassing moment, she scrunched up her nose slightly and said, “Have to?” I said yes, and she grunted and set to work. So when I opened her journal later, I wasn’t expecting to see her personality leap off the page so vividly: “My tutor told me to tell my most embarrassing moment… I ain’t telling her! None of her business! Instead, I’ll tell you something embarrassing that happened to my cousin.” She always provides commentary on the journal prompt she’s been given; one day she was finishing up her entry from the previous day, and I wrote the date in the middle of her paper. Later I found an arrow pointing to the words, “That is NOT part of the story. I don’t know who wrote that without my permission.” She cracks me up.
I remember having the conversation below, but I had no idea it was being documented. Don’t forge to check out the cartoon at the bottom. “Others tell me to get in shape. A circle is a shape!” E is also a great artist who enjoys drawing unflattering pictures of her male classmates.
All kids are the same at heart.
One kid, J, is exactly the same as the kid I nannied for two years. Their personalities, mannerisms, the way they try to charm me into forgetting their homework, their loud exuberant laughs–all completely the same. The only difference is that J has a Spanish accent.
How to head off the key distractions.
Light switches. Going to the bathroom. Using the whiteboard. Going to get a drink of water. YouTube. Going to tell the boys in the next room to be quiet. Going to get headphones/pencils/paper/a computer charger/a different computer. Anything and everything is a distraction when you’re eight years old and being told to do extra math practice, but a few things crop up literally every single day, and by this time I can spot them from a mile away.
Kids are beautifully resilient.
I asked P to tell the story of his life as his journal prompt one day, and at first he flat-out refused. But finally the floodgates opened, and I was amazed. “My birthday is February 3rd, 2007. I was born in Burma and it was snowing. I had lots of friends there and we would have snowball fights. One time when I was three, I slipped because the world was icy.” His little accent was so thick that I could barely understand some words. “When I was six we moved here. We came here on an airplane, and it took like ten years to get to the USA. Life was normal until I had a baby sister. Then I had another baby sister.” Dramatic eye roll. “Then we moved to the house we live in now.” He paused, thinking back over his ten years of life. I prompted, “Do you miss your friends in Burma?”
“Yes. My old friends had the same language as me—I don’t know how to say their names in English.” P’s face grew downcast. But then he gave me his signature squinty-eyed smile and said, grinning from under the chair where he’d barricaded himself against the dreaded journal writing, “But I made new friends here.”
I think about P’s story often. Displaced from his home, dragged to a new country, still learning English–he’s doing the best he can.
I’m on the right track.
In summer 2015, three things happened–a friend of mine committed suicide, I had surgery for a torn ligament, and I coached softball since I couldn’t play. Those three events planted in me an important dream to found a nonprofit where kids could play softball/baseball and hear about Jesus. That dream faded a little with everything that’s happened in my life during the past year, but working at NGF has brought this vision back 100%. I think about it all the time now; I’m dying to begin. My dream is to create a place where any child–regardless of how much money they have, how much talent they have, whether they speak English, whatever–can play softball. I especially want to give underprivileged kids equal opportunities as the kids whose families can afford prestigious travel teams, because during my years playing rec and travel ball I noticed a huge disparity. I’d also love to help the kids in my program in school–similar to my local Cowboy Church’s homeschool, or to the Fugee Family’s accredited school for refugees. Next spring I will coach softball for the first time since fall 2015, and next fall I plan to begin work on my associate’s degree in something like exercise science or sports management. Then I can focus full-time on my dreams: namely, writing and this softball ministry. I am so so SO excited to see where they go.
Have you ever worked in a similar environment? What’s your favorite of the lessons I’ve learned? What dreams light up your eyes and heart?