Parks Make Life Better

parks matter

~This is the fifth blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children.  I will not identify the children by name and in general write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and as importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.  

Summer has arrived and with it, summer school.  Only this is different.  There are no teachers….just the managers of the summer program.  This can only mean one thing.  Nothing to worry about folks….just fun stuff.

I missed my first volunteer opportunity because I was sick so I didn’t know what to expect yesterday. As I arrived at the school playground, I was met with a bright smile and the happy word, “HOLA!”  There he was, my ready-to-learn-Spanish-pal.  We shook hands, said good morning and went directly to the basketball court.  Really, it’s just a basketball hoop between the play structure and the building where all the playground equipment is kept, but it provides for some of the loudest laughter and deepest discussions nonetheless.

We played until the ‘bell rang’ and off we went, all twenty of us, into the largest classroom.  We went over the prerequisite ritual of voicing the day and date then introducing ourselves by name and favorite animal.  After playing games, eating snacks, playing ping pong and eating lunch, the kids were provided with swimsuits and flip-flops and loaded into vans for a trip to a splash pad at a nearby park.

Upon arrival, kids were sprayed down with sunblock and reminded of the rules. As I stood and watched the youngest and bravest of the kids bolt onto the pad, and into the fountain streams screaming their surprise at the water’s temperature, I was joined by one of our three teens.  James (my ping-pong partner) walked up to me and said, “So. Do you think that parks make life better?   I turned and looked at him.  He smiled widely.

I said, actually, I do.  Parks help people relax and have fun.  Why do you ask?

He pointed to banners on poles around the splash pad.  The banners said, “Parks make life better.” He turned to join the other boys who just discovered the water cannons.

We spent a total of about 2 hours at the park.  We played on the playground equipment, in the water, with frisbees and a whiffle ball. They had a grand time. One of the boys yelled out, “This is the best day ever!”

Twenty children had a wonderful time. Teens gave in to their inner little kid and played like they used to. The littler ones found thrills in unexpected buckets of water pouring down on them.  The girls flaunted their new swimsuits with ruffles. A couple of the children found great delight the false protests of volunteers being threatened with their cold, wet hugs.

It had been only two hours, but no one complained when it was time to go back to school. They had played themselves into a calm exhaustion and were ready to go.

Knowing it is sometimes hard to sleep at night when you don’t feel completely safe, I hoped that this good, tired feeling would continue to help them relax through the rest of the day and into their night.  I hoped that their little spirits were renewed and that they would look forward to their next day at summer school. I hoped that there will be more trips to parks this summer.

And… I thought, yes, James, parks make lives better.

Thanks for reading.

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About Caro

I am a social worker by training and a peace officer by profession having worked with California’s delinquent youth and young adults for 28 years. I firmly believe that our development as humans depends on our environment and that sometimes we get stuck. As such, I write about those things we sometimes ignore or fail to see until we are forced to pay attention.
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