Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adventures in volunteering

It's been a few weeks now, but meant to do some mulling over recent volunteering. Now I have the piling-on experiences. Oh dear. It'll be a memory test.

Kid-reading adventures
Today was Mauricio. That kid is a trip. I mean, he puzzles me. He doesn't talk. Or, barely talks. And, I'm fundamentally about not forcing things/people. So, things could be a perfect storm here. A perfectly quiet storm. Last week was vacation week, and I know, or at least I think, he went to DC with his family. But, couldn't get a word out of him about it. There was a noise or two that I took interpretative liberties with, but who really knows.

So for today, his mom had asked the program coordinator to get a book from the library - something like The 39 Clues? It's a series. Apparently he's reading them, or someone's reading them, at home. So, he opted for that one today -- it's a big ole like real book, more so even than The Diary of a Wimpy Kid we'd started last time. Pretty high level, but that's cool by me. He said he's reading book 6 at home and had read this one, but was seemingly still game to read it. So, once we dealt with the strawberry-yogurt explosion in his lunchbag, I started reading. He seemed into it. And then, 5 minutes before time was up, like last time, he reaches over, closes the book, packs up his bag and is just done. So, me being me, I kinda fundamentally respect that. I mean, I'd rather we kept going or at least talked (but that would, you know, involve talking), but I'm not gonna force him. So he packs up, wanders away, and is looking at books in a rack in the classroom. I start reading the other picturey book I'd grabbed as a long shot, by Lloyd Alexander (Lloyd Alexander rocks, people).

Then the coordinator comes over to him, tells him to come sit, so he does. So I give him the quick recap of the prior pages, and start reading. It's a super simple book, a parable (we didn't get to the moral, so can't share that ... looked to be about self-sufficiency or belief in self or something), with v cool illustrations -- like the pages were essentially paintings with a few words on them. And he's sitting and listening -- he seems to be an obedient kid and all, but he did seem to be into it. Then the class comes in, and he sprints for the rug -- he kinda seems to have a thing about being first on the rug. So, such it was.

Only a few more weeks left, wonder if he'll opt to continue next year. Walking out, I was talking about what went down, and one of the other volunteers made the seemingly adult (obvious) point that I could certainly tell him to sit and that we need to keep reading until the time's up. So then I felt a little silly. I mean, seemingly I am the grownup, right? This is why I'm not a parent, y'all! Well, maybe more reasons than this, but kids, they're a puzzle. I maintain they're not fully done baking, so I shouldn't expect them to be mini adults, but it's tricky when I just don't know what's in that little head of his. And I can sure ask, but bet you a bridge I'd get silence. But, I'll try. Will do the whole "so, here's how this works" thing next week, try giving him some options when he's "done" ... and we'll see!

Out-loud-reading adventures
Let's see, last time I was at Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic, I got something exciting -- yes, still a textbook, but a NEW book. Like, I was the one starting it! Exciting! I mean, sure, it means I got to read the table of contents (yay?), but it was kinda cool to be the one to start a book. Always wonder what the listener thinks when the voice totally switches. Surely they're used to it, but still, must be jarring. Wonder if they have favorite and least-favorite readers? Pet peeves (like, when I hit names I have no idea how to pronounce and know every reader probably makes up their own version)?

This week is their big fundraising/recording bonanza -- I was gonna read twice this week, but had to cancel one and haven't made it back to look at the big book and see if there're holes. But, once is something. I know they're hard up for "specialty" readers, so keep racking my brain for anyone into mathematics, chemistry, biology, medicine, etc., who'd be into reading out loud. No one's come to mind yet.

Youth-bookstore adventures
OK, two more -- the volunteering racked up! A few weekends ago, I volunteered at this supremely cool amazing organization called More Than Words -- check it out. They did a fantastic job with the volunteer experience, too -- really engaged/involved the volunteers as well as all the kids working there, gave a real sense of the place, then got down to some concrete work. At one point, I was arranging shelves. Got mega alphabetical testing -- don't laugh, the middle of the alphabet blurs -- when was the last time you had to do tons of alphabetizing?? Then once all the books had been reordered (my alpha skills were better than theirs, must say), I tried to make an attractive display ... not my forte, was kinda challenging, but fun.

As a bookstore, it was a cool place, well put together, and the physical space came into being because their online sales were doing so well. So, if you need to do any bookbuying, apart from hitting up your local independent shop, consider them! They also had these paintings up in the store that kids had done and they were fantastic. I wanted to buy one of them, but not quite in the artbuying market just now, even the youthful one. I gotta do more with them, will bring back more stories then. It's just such a great idea that's been executed so well; it was really inspiring at showing a great possibility come true.

Adventures in high schools
OK, the last mini story (in what has become Shana's Volunteering Manifesto) was at Hyde Park High, which isn't its official name anymore, but don't make me go look it up. I'm almost outta time before heading out to this thing. So, as a native Californian, I was totally blown away just by this school itself -- huge, all indoor, ornate, just so different than the low-slung one-level blobs o school I grew up with.

The volunteering idea was a partnership with the City of Boston and WriteBoston to promote writing in schools (I'm boiling down their better wording, but that's the essence). WriteBoston has a couple of tutors there to help kids with writing stuff, plus teachers with lesson planning and such, and they pull in volunteers from the community as well. I was there week before vacation week, so not only was the schedule off, the kids were sorta as well ... teachers, too, probably. So, I didn't get a very good taste, but I'll be heading back in a few weeks. More to say about the experience of being there, but will probably gel better once I go back.


  1. That Mauricio is really quite the individual. I always hear people say "You never know what goes through a kids brain" or something similar to that but I think that generally applies to all people, whatever age they may be. He seems to have fun with you and enjoy the time together so why be a disciplinarian when I'm sure he get's it from all sides.

  2. Of course I'm inclined to agree with you ... but a part of me thinks ... struggling with the wording here ... well, agrees with the point that it's OK and appropriate for me to tell him to do things - really, to structure the session a little bit more - ah, here it is - to *enforce* the structure a bit more. Yeah. Don't like the enforcer bit, and I think that's fine and valid, but I think being ABLE to be the enforcer is also a good skill. Then to mindfully choose whether to be or not, but not to simply default out b/c it's not comfortable. Yeah, there's my point.

  3. Shana the Enforcer: there's a fine line between the law and the Enforcer's law. Coming soon to a theater near you.