Friday, December 21, 2012

A person of value?

I am writing from the Teen Center.

 It is the evening of our Christmas I type there are 35+ teens and 3 staff waiting. We wait  as Arnulfo's mom runs home for the rice and cake before the festivities officially begin.  The neighbors donated TONS of tamales. Armando's mom brought the beans.Presents have been donated from various sponsors.

  I am surrounded by the sound of laughter, pool balls, anxious anticipation and kids relieved to be with family. For we are a family the teens often point out to us.

 My first day here a young woman by the name of Lucia looked at me and said Do you have a date with your husband tonight? You should. You need to go out with your husband so then you can come your second family..and you know..raise us. That same evening one of the mom's stopped me, and introduced herself. Then ended with..Welcome to your second you can help raise them. Father Mike from the church that we are housed out of introduces himself..and says..welcome to your new family. I trust you will raise them well.

But here's the thing...we have been surrounded lately by violence..and fear..and threats of more violence. These teens..many...have recently had families deported, or family visits cancelled...or parents losing jobs.  Our "milk and cookie kids", as we like to refer to them, are simply dealing with the violence in their schools and neighborhoods. And the heartbreak..the huge heartbreak..of watching their friends miss their first families...and wonder where they will sleep next week..and all that stuff that comes with urban poverty in the 21st century.

This past month our staff has started running some programs at one of the local highschools. We were asked to work with some at-risk mentor them in small groups. In a district whose drop-out rate is 60% . The  counselors and social workers at this particular school are scrambling to help them graduate. So my co-workers and I go and agree to partner with this school and the kids they have identified.

 We begin each session with an of which includes asking members to step forward when something matches their experience.  ?'s like...if you have ever thought something critical of yourself "I'm too fat.short, etc..please take a step forward. or If you have a dream, please take a step forward. This inevitably leads into an exercise and a series of  sessions on respect. Self-respect, disrespect and personal boundaries.We run similar programs with our regular Teen Center we think we are prepared.

We started with the same ice-breakers with our first group of young men at this highschool. I state...If you see yourself as a valuable person, please take a step. No one moves. These young men have moved on other questions..but this one simply brings silence.

Our second session is a group of about 8 young women. Once again I state...If you see yourself as a valuable person, please take a step. Once again..we meet dead silence..and one girl asks..Miss Nicole...what does that mean? After a brief summary,something along the lines of.. if you have ever felt important, or if you matter, one girl timidly steps forward. The rest remain in their spots.

The next day we meet our next group of boys.I ask the same question. Again Silence. I ask..can anyone tell me what it means to be valuable. In boy says..miss..I have NO IDEA what you are talking about. Once again, no one moves.

My co-workers and I look at eachother from across the room. We have just met 24 teens. 23 of these teens don't see themselves as a person of value? How do you teach a child he or she has value? How do you awaken a beaten down young teen to their personal value, in one hour a week?

It occurs to me, as I watch the horrors of the shootings in Conneticut, and as I watch our Club teens continually be sent home early due to bomb threats, hit lists and men with guns on their campuses that maybe our 23 teens who remained standing are not the only ones who do not know their value. They are not the only ones who don't understand the concept of human value.

I do the only sensible thing to do.

 I cry.

I cry for the 23 teens who don't' understand the concept of their own personal value. I cry for the one who does understand. I cry for the victims of adults who have no concept of personal value. I cry for a society who has so many people with such deep hurts that they forget how to feel at all.

Then? I look at my families..both of them. Like the teens at the Center tonight. I am relieved to be with family. And I am grateful for the value my families bring to my own life.

So for those of you who don't know? I friggin' love my second family! And yes..I am returning to blogging after dinner has been served and presents opened. Here everyone is gathered as we start to serve dinner. Carlos says..."that's what families do!"

Now..for the other important and valuable family in my life. Reiterating here. important. valuable.When I'm not with my second family,I have been at home..hanging with (are you ready for it?)

  The first family. Yes. It's true. I like to refer to myself and my family as the first family. Just humor's Christmas after all. Sheesh!

Levi and I have been painting a dresser for his room.

Here Levi is sanding...

and painting...and painting..and worrying about the mess on his finger.

...and a job well done, if you ask me!

 Then there are the tall children! Everyone came home to celebrate an early Christmas. We ate pasta and chilli, caught up on all sorts of gossip, and played some sort of gender wars board game.

 Here is the awesome girls team..consisting of Cody's girlfriend, Ellie..Brian's fiance, Angee..and me. I think we are discussing something important. Like what the heck is some boat part called. Or what are the pictures of various make-up type brushes for...or what the heck is that thing called that covers a tea-pot. (which Cody knew, by the way)

The men's team..consisting of Austen, Brian, Cody and Levi..and Big B..(who participated from a distance) kept us laughing. This group? Definately not doubting their value. Everytime they answered a question correctly..they would burst into a chorus of  "Men, Men, Men..Men..Men..Men..Men..Men..Men." (from 2 and a half men)

But just for the record? The women won!

Okay..I have gone on WAY. TOO. LONG.

Feliz Navidad, folks.