Child trades worry for wonder
Project Transformation is a summer literacy day camp for underserved children. From June 6 to July 28, mentors and volunteers helped 488 elementary students through reading, computers, arts-and-crafts, music and theater, field trips, and enrichment activities.
By JORDAN LOVE, Project Transformation intern
This was my third summer term with Project Transformation and the first time I got to be the arts-and-crafts coordinator.
I recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma, with a degree in "Creative Expressions and Human Behavior," and my ultimate goal is to become an art therapist. So being in that Project Transformation post really was right up my alley.
Kids don’t have the words to describe their feelings as adults do. They approach life much more visually and are at times much more observant than a typical adult.
For legal reasons I cannot say his name, but "Kid" particularly stood out for me.
At the beginning of camp, Kid was a complete ball of crazy. With zero patience and unable to respond to simple directions, Kid was a headache for my team and me as we corralled some 50 campers.
In my class, Kid hardly ever participated; his interest was sporadic at best. I couldn’t get him to sit down and focus on his creative side, which I knew he had within him.
Kid, a second-grader, and three other campers lived in the same foster home. Once a week Kid told me that he was excited because he was going to see his caseworker and might be able to see his Mom. (He saw Mom twice during the entire summer, I believe.)
We figured out that Kid was incapable of simply being a kid. He had been deprived of childhood joy. He had been dealt worry about problems that adults deal with day to day and problems much more stressful. He had been taken away from any form of solidarity with his own family, be that healthy or unhealthy.
Yet as the camp progressed, Kid really took to what I was teaching. When I led the campers in an exercise where they drew whatever they were feeling—drawing without any distinguishable objects, just line and color—the look on his face, as he tried to pin down the right emotion, was wonderfully amusing.
Then, about a month in, Kid asked me if he could draw. On his own, without any instruction, he drew hearts all over a page. When he came up to me with his little masterpiece, the look on his face was that of any child simply expressing himself, simply being a kid.
One day the group went swimming, but Kid did not know how. He had never had a chance to learn. So I decided to work with him in the pool’s deep end. Let’s just say it is doubtful that he will ever try out for an Olympic swim team, but now he certainly can dog paddle with the best of them. That is fine by me. He finally can play with kids his own age and not the little ones in the splash pool.
As we were wading out after the lesson, he looked up at me and, holding my hand, Kid said, "Mr. Jordan, you feel like my Dad."
I had to pull back tears. All I could manage to say was, "Well, that’s really sweet, and I think you’re a great kid. So be a kid, and enjoy it."
Kid smiled and ran off to swim his heart out for the rest of the day.
Life is a series of moments. However ephemeral, for a few moments Kid felt safe and knew he was loved and cared for by us. It is warming to know we were able to provide someone with moments like that. For some in circumstances such as Kid’s, such moments never occur. Out of everything we could fight for, those moments are worth it.