Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Miss Read Volunteers

Hi everyone! A while ago I mentioned that I was looking for a way to do some volunteer work with kids, in order to get some fresh references (and also because I do like doing community service!) At the time I was having trouble finding a place to volunteer, and many organizations hadn't returned my emails and phone calls. Well, I finally got hooked up with a near by township (not the one I live in, unfortunately) that has a pretty cool mentoring program.
I was always interested in mentoring, and I actually did some mentoring in the past, both as a volunteer through AmeriCorps, and as a paid "therapeutic mentor" for a social service organization. It never went well for me. See, the idea is usually that once a week you are supposed to pick up a child from their house, and do some activities with them. The organizations usually specify that these activities should be free or under $5.00. 
If I am with a child between the ages of about 2 and 8, I can come up with unlimited ideas for free activities! As a nanny I was famous for my daily outings with kids. I'd get on the Internet and research every free story time, kid-friendly concert, or celebration at every library or book store within a ten mile radius. I knew which craft stores and lumber yards hosted free classes for kids, which movie theaters had free $1 Disney movies one morning a week, where kids could bowl for free in the summer, which splash pads were free or under a couple bucks for entrance, which nature centers had kid-friendly exhibits and live animal encounters, which malls had free "kids clubs" with cool performances and snacks, which park districts had  free mini-carnivals and picnics for kids... I could go on and on! When I take care of the under-8 crew, our days are always adventurous!
But when mentoring, I always seem to get matched with kids who are 12 to 17. And at that age, all of the things I just mentioned above are boooooooooriiiiiiiing! They mainly want to go to the mall or someplace with video games, or maybe the movies... which are all places that organizations with mentoring programs don't always like you to take kids. The organizations suggest doing things like hiking, or researching colleges... if you can manage to force the young teen to do these things! 
I once worked as a mentor for a 14-year-old girl who lived in a foster home. When I met her, her foster mother told me the girl loved doing "anything at all," especially going out to eat or going to movies. We ended up going out to eat a lot. It was the perfect activity because we'd find new places to eat, and while we were eating we'd talk. The girl really opened up to me and we talked about everything in the world, which is really one of the biggest parts of mentoring, right? Letting the kids have someone to talk to? Well, the supervisor at the social service agency I was working with called me in one day and lectured me that I needed to stop taking the girl out to eat. Why? Well, because, as a foster child, this girl would probably grow up to have a very limited income, and it wasn't fair to get her used to going out to eat all the time since she would never be able to afford that kind of thing when she grew up. Way to have high expectations for a kid! 
So anyway... this was why I had some reservations about mentoring again. But at this township program, they do things a little differently. Instead of having to take a kid out, a whole group of mentors and kids meets twice a month to do structured activities together for an hour and a half. I think it is perfect, because the activity is already provided for you, and its short and sweet, so you don't have to turn cartwheels trying to keep a kid entertained for five hours! 
Last night was my first time volunteering there. I was matched with a ten-year-old girl named Sadie, who barely stopped running around the room and shouting the whole time! She was very energetic. In a happy way, though! They had to make these posters about themselves, which didn't hold her attention for very long  at all, so we ended up going around the room and taking a survey of everyone's favorite foods and writing them down for a hypothetical fancy dinner Sadie is planning on hosting. In some ways it was difficult because when the people who run the program were trying to give directions for the project, or help other kids, Sadie was running around the room, crawling under tables, and pretending to be a dog! I wasn't sure how to react... I had just met her that day, as opposed to the other adults there who had known Sadie for months, and since nobody else was trying to stop her from bouncing off the walls, I wasn't sure if I should, on the first day. On the other hand, all of the other children were sitting angelically and coloring posters while the one I was in charge of wreaked havoc! I tried to distract her, and reengage her in the poster she was supposed to be making, but I wasn't all that successful. Another thing is, unlike any other organization I've ever worked with, we don't get any background information about the children, such as whether they have certain needs or behaviors. I have no way of knowing if Sadie is zipping back and forth in the room because she has something like ADHD that makes it difficult for her to sit still, or whether she is desperate for attention, or whether she is shy about meeting new people and is trying to overcompensate by being wacky, or what. All I know about her is what she happens to tell me during the moments when I can get her to calm down and take a breath. And so far, that information includes the facts that she loves animals, hates a boy named Anthony in her class who may or may not have said "the b word" to her, has recently learned how to play Chinese jump rope, loves TV and video games, and really enjoys fried chicken. 
I'm looking forward to the next mentoring day, anyway... but its not for another two weeks! I guess I'll have plenty of time to wonder what that day will bring! Any advice, anyone?

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