Retreat of service brings joy


Ethan Howard

Helias High School hosted CHRISTpower 2015. Each day, we would be sent to places around Jefferson City, such as Capital Projects, which is a workshop that hires mentally and physically disabled people, or Villa Marie Skilled Nursing Center, or the Salvation Army, or St. Vincent de Paul Society, or the Jefferson City Day Care Center. My favorite day, by far, was Friday, which was the day that my group went to the daycare.
When I woke up that morning, all of the other people in my room were still asleep. My clothes and toiletry bag were under the cot. Moving slowly, I got off of the cot and picked up my stuff. The door was wedged open, so I slid through it as quietly as I could. The lights in the bathroom flicked on as I walked down the hallway. Setting my toiletry bag on the sink, I walked into the nearest stall and changed clothes.
When I got back to the room, one of the other guys was awake. He waved to me as I set my stuff down, and I waved back as I walked out of the door. As I was walking downstairs, I ran into one of my team members, Ben.
“Good morning, Ben,” I said. He nodded in reply. Ben wasn’t very talkative until he had had his morning coffee. I walked down the stairs, and walked into the dark cafeteria. I sat down at a table and put my shoes on. I grabbed a deck of cards and set up a game of solitaire for myself.
Thirty minutes later, everyone else had joined us. We moved to sit with our groups. Each group had a certain colored bandana. My group was pink, and the other teams had green, orange, blue, red or another color. Joe, our group leader, said, “Good morning, guys.” We all said good morning.
“So, today we are going to be going to the daycare, and it’s water day there, so wear something that you won’t mind getting wet.”
The leader, Sydnee, clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. She said, “Good morning.” We all yelled good morning back to her. She listed off where each group would be going that day, and then she dismissed the group that would be leading the thanks for the people that cooked breakfast for us.
As that group got up and went into the kitchen, Sydnee called our group to go and get breakfast. We stood up and walked toward the kitchen. The group in front of us had gotten their breakfast and were getting their drinks. I grabbed a gray platter, along with a napkin and utensils and joined the line. I got a biscuit, a bowl of cereal, yogurt, and toast and went back to our table.
After everyone had finished, the group that was dismissed first led the thanks to the guys that cooked breakfast, and as they sat down, Sydnee announced which group would be going where and which bus we would need to get on. She dismissed us, and we went out of the building, grabbing the gray plastic tubs that held our lunch and got on our designated bus. I sat towards the middle of the bus. The bus started up, and we pulled out of the parking lot.
Two minutes later, we stopped at the corner where the daycare was. My team got off of the bus and waited for it to continue on, taking the other team to the nursing home. We crossed the road and walked up to the door. One of the women working there opened the door for us. We placed our tub down in an open room and the manager of the day care walked in and began talking to us. “Thanks for coming, guys,” she said.
“It’s our pleasure,” Joe said.
She smiled and said, “Ok, we’re going to be splitting you up into groups of two, and then you’re going to be put into one of the two rooms for that age level. So, who wants to be with the toddlers?”
Ben raised his hand. I looked around and saw that no one else had, so I tentatively raised mine. She nodded and said, “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to them.” I followed her out of the room and down the hall where she stopped at two doors. She opened one of the doors and beckoned me inside.
I entered the room, and two women turned and looked at me.
“Hi,” I said. The one closest to me set down one of the toddlers and said, “Hello. What’s your name?”
I smiled at the little girl staring at me from the floor and said, “Ethan.”
The women smiled and said, “Well, Ethan, if you want to sit on the carpet by the door, we’ll see if they will come to you.”
I sat down on the carpet by the door and watched as the four kids looked at me as if they didn’t know what to think of me. One of the boys started crying, and I smiled at him, in an attempt to calm him down.
“He’s getting used to you,” one of the ladies said.
“Is he now?” I asked.
“He has separation anxiety, but he seems to be warming up to you pretty quickly,” she said. The little girl started crawling over to me, and I reached my hand out to her. She slowly took hold of my hand and stood up. She let go of my hand and grasped the top of a bookshelf.
The boy who had separation anxiety stopped crying and stared at me. He started hobbling over to me, smiling. He fell over just as he got over to me, his little hand landing on my leg. I smiled at him as he reached for my hand to pull him up. Just as he pulled himself up, the lady walked past me and opened the door behind me, which led outside.
She looked at the boy holding onto my hand and said, “You can have him hold onto your hands and you can walk him around, if you want to.”
I let go of the boy’s hand, stood up, and reached my hands out to him. He grabbed hold of my index fingers and started wobbling towards the door. I followed behind him, and when he reached the door, I pulled him up and over the frame.
The playground outside had two tires swings, a little plastic tree, and a play structure. I saw Ben chasing around a couple of the boys from the other room. There were probably 15 other kids outside, plus the three from my room.
The boy pulled me forward, and we walked over to the tire swings. He left go of my right hand and patted one of the tires. The bottom hole of the tire was covered, so I picked him up and placed him in the tire. I sat down in front of him and began to push the tire back. The boy watched me as I pushed him.
I watched Ben chase around the kids for about 10 minutes before he got a break from them. The kids began chasing each other around, so Ben stopped and took a breath. He walked over to me and sat down in front of the other tire swing.
“You’re really good with him,” he said.
I looked at the boy, who was staring at Ben as if he had fallen off of a different planet.
“Thanks,” I said. “Those kids are really energetic.”
He sighed and said, “Yeah.”
A blonde girl walked up to the tire swing Ben was sitting in front of and poked it.
“Do you want to get in?” Ben asked. She nodded, so Ben lifted her into the swing and she laughed as he began pushing her. I smiled and looked at the boy in the tire swing in front of me. His eyes were closed slightly, as if I was lulling him to sleep.
“I think he’s falling asleep,” I said to Ben.
He frowned and looked over, and said, “Looks like it.”
Just as he said that, I saw the boy’s head lull forward as he fell asleep. I watched as his head hit the tire. He started crying instantly. I picked him up out of the swing as the woman from earlier came over.
“He fell asleep in the tire swing as I was pushing him,” I said.
She nodded and said, “It’s happened before.”
I handed him to her and she walked over to a chair and sat down with him. I sat down next to Ben. I looked at him and he raised his eyebrows.
“So much for being good with kids,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. “You were doing pretty good with those kids earlier.”
He smiled and said, “They’re something else. I’ll tell you that.”
“I want to get out,” the girl in the swing Ben was pushing said. Ben stopped the swing and helped her out. I leaned back and let my arms support me. I stared at the clouds in the sky.
“So, this is your first year, right?” he said. I nodded. “Are you planning on coming back next year?”
“I’m not sure yet; possibly?”
He looked at me and said, “You should. You’ve been pretty cool.” His compliment surprised me. It felt good to be complimented again. Apparently I let out a small gasp, because he got a concerned look on his face. “Are you ok?” He asked. I nodded and said, “Yeah. Thanks man. That’s the first time I’ve been told that in a while.”
He frowned and said, “Really?” I nodded.“Mhmm. In Columbia, people really don’t say that.” “What do you say?” he asked. I looked at a group of kids that ran by and said, “It’s mostly extremely backhanded compliments, but most of the time, the ‘compliment’ part is lost, and it just turns into an insult.” He raised his eyebrows and said, “That sucks.” I nodded.
A couple of minutes later, the kids Ben were playing with earlier ran up to him and began to jump on top of him and pull him. I smiled as he said, “Ok, ok. I’m getting up.” He looked at me and said, “I’ll be back.” I nodded and watched as the kids pulled him toward the tree. Ben squeezed himself into it. One of the boys put his hands to the side of his head and yelled, “You’re too big!” I laughed and Ben smiled and tried to pull himself out of the tree. I lay back and stared at the clouds in the sky.
I sat up as a group of kids ran by, Ben close behind. The kids climbed the stairs to the play structure as fast as they could. Ben stood at the bottom of the slide and growled at the kids that were standing at the top. The children giggled and screeched as Ben went underneath the play structure and pretended to try to grab at the kids’ feet. One kid slid down the slide and ran off. He stopped behind the tree stump, peering around the side of it to see if Ben had chased him. Ben turned towards the kid and acted like he just noticed him there, and began to walk over to him. The boy shrieked and dashed out from behind the tree as Ben began to chase him. The boy climbed the stairs to get away from Ben. Ben put his hands on his hips and sighed, saying, “You guys are too quick for me.”
He turned to look at me. He pointed at the kids and said, “You wanna chase them? I need a breath.” I stood up and walked over to the play structure. One of the kids was sitting on the top of the slide with his feet hanging down, so I grabbed it. He screeched and pulled his feet back. I laughed and reached my hand over the top of the play structure to try and grab the kids’ legs. They all giggled as I tried to get them.
I stopped trying to snatch at their feet and climbed the stairs. I heard the squeals of the kids as I squeezed myself through the tube to get to them. One of the kids yelled, “Go! He’s coming!” They squirmed as they all tried to go down the slide at once.
Once I managed to squeeze myself out of the tube and fall headfirst onto the metal platform, all of the kids were down the slide and on the other side of the playground. I sighed and stood up. I pointed at the kids and tried to make the scariest face I possibly could and slid down the slide. I slowly stepped closer to the group of kids, and once I got within 15 feet of them, I ran at them. They screeched and dashed around me. Most of them ran up the play structure again, but two boys ran to Ben and tried to hide themselves behind him as best as they could.
I took a deep breath and sat down next to Ben and said, “Ok, maybe that’s enough of that game.” Ben nodded and said, “Yeah, maybe.”
He reached his hand over his shoulder and one of the children behind him took hold of it. Ben pulled the child around him and the child sat down in Ben’s lap. “Are you tired, Armani?” Ben asked. The child, who was named Armani, nodded and yawned. Ben smiled and looked at me. “And you said I was good with kids?” I said.
He smiled and said, “Yeah. I guess we both are.”
I looked at the kid whom I had accidentally lulled to sleep and said, “Maybe you are. I’m not sure about me.”
He patted my shoulder and said, “Hey, it wasn’t your fault the kid fell asleep in the tire swing.”
I nodded as the lady was lead closer to me by the boy. The boy let go of the lady’s hands and dropped into my lap. “What’s his name?” I asked the lady.
“Alex. We’ll be going inside soon,” she said. “Ok,” I said. Alex giggled as he layagainst my legs. I tickled his stomach and he giggled even more.
“See, you are good with kids,” Ben said. I looked at him and raised my eyebrows. He smiled as Armani poked his knee. Armani looked at Ben and laughed. Ben tickled him until he laughed uncontrollably.
The lady came by and said, “It’s time to head inside.” I picked up Alex and Ben picked up Armani, and we walked towards the doors. The little girl from inside was sitting on the ground, so I crouched down next to her and reached out to her. She took hold of it, and I lifted her into my open arm, and walked inside. As we headed inside, Alex laughed and cooed.
Volunteering can be a fun experience as long as you allow it to be and if you enjoy what you’re doing.