Back in September, making it through the first day–and then the first week!–of After School at Casserly House felt like a huge accomplishment. I didn’t know then how much more difficult things would get, how much these kids would push me to grow, and how challenged I would be.
In many ways, I haven’t spoken much about the specifics of my job and daily work in this space, and that’s for several reasons, but basically, it’s something I am so wrapped up in that it’s hard to wrap my head around.
After School has easily been the most challenging part of this year for me, as I thought it would be. These kids have broken my heart in the best and worst ways. They have disappointed me, made me want to scream in frustration, and have given me some truly terrible headaches. And then, somehow, they have made me laugh.
I have heard their whispers about violence on the streets at night, houses where there doesn’t ever seem to be enough food to eat, and the empty and lonely apartments that they dread going home to. I have seen tears stream down their faces as they relate the story of that day’s bullying and witnessed the daily frustrations of dealing with schoolwork that they don’t know how to begin to approach.
I have been in awe of their talent, of their potential, and of the kindness that they are capable of showing to each other. I can’t wait to see who they become, and part of me desperately wishes I would be around to see it. Some of my most cherished moments have been spent just enjoying their company.
I will be brutally honest and say that this year has taught me that I do not want to continue to work with children, not because it isn’t valuable and meaningful work, but simply because it isn’t where my gifts lie. I know that now, but that doesn’t mean that I regret this time or wish I has spent the year doing different work. To say that I have learned more working with these children than being in a classroom could have ever taught me would be an understatement.
Now, there are only two weeks left of After School. In the scope of the whole year, that’s hardly anything. But it’s just enough time to end the year on a good note.
I have made a lot of mistakes this year. But as I look towards the end, I become more aware than ever, that while this program has focused on the academic success of these children, that’s not the real measure of success. The kind of success that matters cannot be measured; it doesn’t show up on report cards and progress reports.
I just hope they end the year a little better off, with a little bit more confidence, and a little bit more knowledge of how loved and valuable they are.
One of the hardest realizations of this year has been knowing I can’t change so many things about their lives. I can’t make problems at home and bad situations disappear, can’t enroll them in better schools, or can’t make sure they always have a warm dinner on the table.
There is so much I can’t do, but what I can and what I will do for the next two weeks is be there everyday from 3pm to 5pm, for whatever they need, whether it is math homework or just someone to listen.
And some closing words of inspiration that I think are applicable to my situation as a JV, but also to so many others that we encounter in life:
“It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”
–Archbishop Oscar Romero