Michelle and I went to a celebration dinner last night put on by El Encino Baptist church for their volunteers. El Encino is a church in southeast Fresno that is the hub of several neighborhood programs including a Saturday Sports program and an after school tutoring program for poor kids. It was a pretty amazing evening of fellowship.
As I sat there and reflected on my time working with these kids and heard the stories of others, I learned a few important things and I’d like to share some of that.
I’ve been tutoring kids now for about 8 months. I didn’t realize it had been that long until last night. When I first got involved, it was really just because I had the time. I’m not a teacher. I haven’t had any exposure to grade school kids in quite some time since my daughter is now an adult. But I saw that there was a severe shortage of help, and I knew I could make the time. So I signed up.
One thing many of these kids lack in their lives is adults who are consistently present for them. And so the first lesson I learned, before I even started, was that I was going to commit to doing this and I would not quit. Period. Even I turned out to be a sucky tutor, the kids would know that without a doubt, every single Wednesday, the sucky tutor would show up!
The second lesson I learned is that you can’t impact these kids overnight. I don’t know what I expected really when I first walked in to that classroom. I think I probably expected to walk in and be some great figure of authority and change lives within the first week. Yeah, not so much. The first couple of weeks a kid named Jorge really pushed my buttons. Stomped on my buttons actually. Disobedient, disrespectful, cocky. The kid pulled my arm hair as hard as he could one day! But again, I was determined to stay the course. If he was going to try and break me, he was going to have to work a lot harder than me! Eight months later, Jorge always asks me to help with his homework. He wants to learn to play drums. And the other day when he couldn’t come for some reason, his little brother told me that he wanted him to tell me “Hi” for him. So we’ve finally broken through the trust barrier, and that took months. Some of these kids take years to reach and most we may never know what effect we’ve had in their lives. But that’s part of just doing what we’re called to do, and letting God take it from there.
The last lesson I’ve learned is that YOU will be impacted by serving, and probably more so than the people you seek to impact. These kids have had a huge effect on me, not only because of their individual situations, but also because of their resilience, and their genuine desire to be good people. I’ve also been tremendously impacted by watching my fellow tutors serve because we each have our individual set of life circumstances, and seeing their commitment week after week, and hearing their stories, inspires me to be a better person and to do more than I ever thought I would be doing. And it’s that feedback loop that lifts you up as you lift up others that is the amazing thing about serving.
So it was a great night hanging out with everyone, though I ate WAY too much, but hey, that’s what celebrations are for, right?