Thank you to all those volunteers, and grandparents, neighbors, and community memebers who step out and help those around them. Who give of their time and knowledge and who let others see that they matter. That they are important and are not invisible. I want to share a little story about connecting with others. About putting ourselves out there in our communities in some way.
It is a human need to connect with others. Humans were not meant to live in isolation. More than ever before our neighbors need us to connect. We all have a story to tell and each of us wants our story to matter- for someone to listen. Times are tough and the country is in crisis in many ways. We can make it better community by community if we are willing to step out of our house and go meet our neighbors and those in need around us.
The US is behind in education- now ranking 36th in the world in math, science, and reading. 1 in 50 children (or more) are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, not to mention the number of children also diagnosed with ADD or a learning disability. And 1 in 28 children in K to 12 have a parent in jail, and the number of children without enough food to eat is staggering.
If you pay attention you will meet neighbors facing these issues. And our country is raw from acts of violence in schools and businesses, and racial violence as well. Now is when we need to be real. Be drawn to others or to an effort, if we want to see our communities thrive we have to get out and have meaningful connections with others.
For instance, I coordinate a program called Lunch buddies at a local elementary school. Kids that might need attention, are shy, have social anxiety, difficulty at home, a parent deployed, lack self confidence are picked to have lunch with an adult volunteer in a group setting. As the program starts each Fall we are told the child’s name, classroom teacher and grade but over the course of the school year we learn about each of the kids from what they choose to share with us. Some of the kids live with 1 parent, a parent in jail, live with grandparents, have a parent deployed, are struggling at school, lack confidence, are new to the school, or even have a disability. Some of the kids start out shy, and most of the kids still love math, PE, and to read.
When I talk about connections its hard to measure the impact we have on these kids because its not being measured but I can tell you about a boy I’ll call Clay.
Clay was a small blonde haired boy who was paired with my husband, as the counselor said he should be paired with a man. I sat across from Clay at lunch. When Clay first joined us he looked down at the table and as he spoke his hands shook and his voice was not above a whisper, but over the course of the year on those 2nd Wednesdays of the month, Clay began to look up, his voice grew stronger, and his shaking hands became steadier, I saw his kind eyes looking at me more, and the curve of his lips turning into a smile.
He was genuinely happy to see us and converse with us. He seemed to feel safe and comfortable. I don’t know the extent of the impact those lunches will have on Clay as he leaves us for Summer but I know the connections mattered because I know they left an impact on me and my husband and the other 8 volunteers.
The stories from this program are endless, but this particular one stands out. At the end of the year in the Spring we throw the kids who participate in lunch buddies a picnic. The picnic is outside in front of the school as long as the weather is nice. This past picnic, as we set up the tables putting on the tropical table clothes, and filling the tables with many different foods, I remember thinking the picnic wasn’t a big deal. I did not think it was a big deal until the kids came rushing out with smiles from ear to ear and giggles filled the air. Then I knew in that hour we may have made their day and hopefully had a lasting impact on them but they changed our hearts.
One little girl named Sarah, a 3rd grader, said to her lunch buddy Diane, “This is the best day of my life! I have never had a picnic before.” So when I say go out and connect. When I say find a way to be a part of your community. I am challenging you to find your Sarah and give her the picnic she has never had because I did and it changed me forever.
Another boy we had the pleasure of sharing lunch with three years ago, each month during the school year, had a really hard time when we first meet him. He struggled to talk with us, and had a good amount of anxiety, and difficulty. But as the year went on you could see his light shine. Since then I see him around town or at a middle school event and he always smiles and says hello. I know we helped to let him know, you are important, you matter, we care, and we hear you.
We are there to listen, or just sit with them, or maybe coax them to tell us what they like to read, or about their favorite activities. And sometimes talking doesn’t work but a game of tic-tac-toe or coloring pictures does. Sometimes just seeing us come to the table every month, smiling and asking how they are doing (and sure bringing cookies to share) is enough to say- hey you are special.
In each of our communities their are neighbors, both young or old, who may be in need of a helping hand, a listening ear, or a hug. Don’t let your fear or uncertainty in how you can help stop you from giving of yourself. We all have gifts and love to share with others.
Go meet your neighbors, join a group or cause in your area and share your voice, or knowledge, stories or skills. And disconnect from your smart phones and tablets, headphones and music to reach out to those around you. My challenge to each of you is to ask yourself how will I Discover. Create. Connect Today. You have permission to
Have a Picnic with Someone
- Go Share Your Hobby
- Teach Someone how to do something
- Just go listen
- Invite Over a Neighbor
- Go Volunteer
- Go on a Walk and Talk to Your Neighbors