Monday morning comes quickly. After a night of chasing around what we thought was an intruder, our whole group is tired from actually chasing an old heater that was making loud tapping noise in the sanctuary. While comical the next morning, everyone is now running on four hours of sleep. I pull myself out of the warm sleeping bag and step foot onto the cold tile floor. I immediately regret my decision to not wear socks and quickly scamper across the basement to get in line for the bathroom. I’m one of the last ones up (of course) but this means less time waiting and more time sleeping.
Today starts slower than the rest of the week because we don’t begin helping teachers at Hawkins Street School until Tuesday. So presently we plan for the after school program we are assisting with from 3pm till 6pm each afternoon. Our group of about 14 CNU students creates an Olympic theme that will carry on throughout the week, with a new skit for each day. The rest of Monday’s program includes a game, worship, devotion, crafts, and free time. By Tuesday we will know what works and what doesn’t so the schedule can be tweaked to fit the children’s response to our activities.
To get as many kids as possible to come by the church, we bundle up and walk across the road to Hawkins School with flyers that advertize “Kids Club.” Its 2:50pm and the children are about to run from the doors of the decrepit building. Some will follow us, some will go to their houses a few blocks up, and some will run to the housing projects. But no matter your social class, the feeling is the same when school lets out: freedom is celebrated by all.
Right as the rusty doors open, my stomach knots up. I breathe deeply and say a silent prayer. Each year the first day is always nerve-wracking: Will I remember the kid’s names? Do they still recognize me? I begin passing out my quarter page pamphlets and speak to as many people as I can. Several children I know run up and say hello. This makes me feel more at ease…like I am supposed to be here.
The group of us still on the streets head back to the church around 3:15pm. I will be a co-leader of the green group, or the fifth and six graders, all week. I specifically signed up for this section because I worked with many of these teens from last year. They are at such an in-between age, I felt someone who had been here previously needed to help facilitate. This awkward age is the least favored of all the groups at Kids Club, but I enjoy the never ending spontaneity of these sometimes quite irritable children. Even so, they have redeeming qualities. One girl I am particularly excited in seeing again is ZaZa, the typical (but lovable) bully.
My first encounter with her went relatively well:
She glances at me from her seat as I plop down next to her.
“Hi ZaZa. How have you been?”
She fully turns to face me. I can tell she expected me to visit sooner than I did, which is upsetting. But I’m also glad she is still participating in the program.
“Where you been?” she asked. She would never say she cared if I came back or not. But I know she does. She told me last year before I left she wanted to see me again.
“At school ZaZa…down in Virginia.”
She nods and turns back to the others at the table.
I think this was her way of saying “Welcome back to Jersey Britney.”