My introduction to SLYC (St. Luke’s Youth Center) was serving lunch at Camp Imagination when it was still held at St Luke’s. After lunch was D.E.A.R. – Drop Everything And Read - Time. I read with a second-grade boy who was really struggling, and my heart went out to him. Here was a child who was already far behind his grade level, locked up with frustration; would working with a tutor help him open up and enjoy learning to read? His potential inspired me to give volunteering with SLYC a try once the school year started.
I ended up not working with that particular child, who got an outside mentor, but with a variety of students ages 8 to 13, most of whom need help with math or someone to sit next to them to make sure they get their work done. Some days are for listening to kids talking about the good and bad events in their lives, playing Uno, kicking a soccer ball, building Lego, celebrating birthdays, gardening, picking up trash, dancing, and having fun. It’s unpredictable whether there will be five or twenty kids, so flexibility and patience are important qualities to aspire to when volunteering. We’re learning, too!
Many of the SLYC kids have been attending for several years. They are part of a safe, familial community, and they know that the staff and volunteers want the best for them. We are rewarded when students have an “aha moment” with a difficult math problem or get excited about a book they’ve just read or seek you out when they need help or share something wonderful about their day. My favorite times, though, are when the kids are walking from school to St. Luke’s, see me waiting for them, and run to greet me with enthusiasm and joy.
Baltimore is a wonderful but troubled city with thousands of young people living in challenging and difficult circumstances. Maybe you feel that working with a handful of students won’t make a difference. Be inspired by the Loren Eisley’s Story of the Starfish:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”