You’ve heard folk say how a period of time was both a struggle and wonderful at the same time? Well, that was Thanksgiving until New Years day.
The school year began in September with the startup of an after school program. After years of thinking about what it might mean to offer an extended learning opportunity for community youth and encouragement from youth, parents, and funders to take the chance to put something in place, we decided to take the risk! To maintain a balanced budget in the face of current economic conditions and the resulting decreases in donations, we knew sacrifices would have to happen. But what is a spirit filled life if it isn’t about stepping up to the challenges which may make a difference in our community today and tomorrow? We wrote and attained a grant from a private funder who has helped fund the Summer Fun Program over the last ten years. We then eliminated funding for all other events/visits we normally make each year that occur off the reservation (e.g., Regional Assemblies, General Assemblies, congregational visits), and two out of three of us committed to a year without pay.
Now as you might imagine, when the end of October rolled around and our after school attendance was low (yes, low for even a small rural community!), we were disappointed. Like most people in such a state, we had questions: Are we doing the right activities? Are we meeting the right needs? Did we listen well enough when planning the after school program? Do we need to allow more time for it to catch on or do we make a change now? Well, after struggling to be truthful with ourselves, the answer we came up with was to make a change, NOW.
For the next two months, we visited with parents. We visited with bus drivers. We visited with teachers, principles, janitors, board members, and the school district superintendent. We went to middle and high school meetings and visited with students. We visited with other folks who were running after-school programs. We talked about what students, parents, and teachers wanted and needed. We talked about what has worked and what has not. Once we had met with everyone we could think of, we did it again. Conversations were insightful and insight was valuable. Existing partnerships strengthened and new partnerships were created. Throughout this time, folks were supportive and excited! Folks offered all they could, even to the extent that the School District offered to allow us use school facilities, which gave the infrastructure to create extended learning experiences we could never pull off at the Log Church.
Yet, if we were disappointed back in October, we were settling into fretfulness by the time the Christmas school-break finished. Was this ever going to get off the ground!?
Then, in just a moment, everyone was back to school and life seemed nonstop. Fliers were place on walls and bulletin boards in the middle and high schools, day after day. Formal conversations with students occurred one more time. And…then, the first day to begin a new program finally came.
The program was set to have Choir on Mondays and Wednesdays and Art on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first day was a Thursday. We arrived at the Art Room at 2:30 just as students were getting out of school. The Art instructor helped us set up, gave us encouragement, and then left us on our own. As 2:45 rolled around a student came through the door. We talked…and talked…and talked some more when that fearful question came, “Am I the only one coming?” What can you say with empty chairs all around? “Yep, kind of looks that way.” The words were hardly said when the door opened and youth began to stream in. Later we found out the instructor of the tutoring after school program suggested that if any of their youth were interested in art, they might visit and check out what was going on in the Art room. Partnerships matter!
Well, with January closing out, that day is still fresh but moving towards being a while ago in memory. Though we have never had such a rush of students since, we have had a steady group who are progressively learning and creating art and voice. Voices in choir are beginning to blend and spirit is beginning to come through in art pieces. Most of all youth are experiencing themselves as persons with a creative nature and finding others, whom they may not hang with during school hours, have a love similar to their own!
October seems a long time ago now. We never noticed the day when angst slid out the Art door. But we will not soon forget the day when disappointment opened the Choir room door and walked out without looking back.
© David B. Bell 2011