Monday, July 6, 2015

Final Thoughts by Teresa Staton

I am finally getting around to posting my final thoughts on the trip to San Francisco after some much needed rest.  It was an amazing experience to be able to use our gifts of service in surroundings that took some out of their comfort zones.  As Steve mentioned, his group worked at a food bank and with Korean children at All Missions.  Meanwhile, my group which consisted of Adam, Jake, Ryan, Vinny, Skyler and Mary were assigned to the Boys & Girls Club for the week.  I think we were all initially disappointed not to have additional experiences such as a food bank or delivering meals, but this quickly faded as we were drawn closer to some terrific children.

The Boys & Girls Club is located in the Tenderloin District which is a combination of cultures, homeless suffering from addiction and mental health disorders and very low income households.  This Boys & Girls Club is run unlike any other Boys & Girls Club I have seen.  During the summer, they have an attendance of 140 children ranging in age from 6 through middle school.  Their facilities are small, and it is astounding what they are doing in such cramped quarters.

The "clubhouse" is located in between two low income housing buildings.  On the bottom floor of one of the buildings, there is a community room, play room and art room for children in elementary school.  There is a courtyard where Power Play (lunch recess) takes place.  There is a jungle gym, a little room for a game of tag, a cone-type tower that spins and room for jump roping.  On the bottom floor of the adjoining building, there are rooms for the middle school children, a lunch room and staff offices.  There is also a park nearby for afternoon outdoor games.

We were assigned to the elementary students.  Their schedule is very structured.  They are encouraged to join one of their clubs, such as art club and the photography club.  The vast majority of the children hold a job at the Club ranging from bankers (for their funny money) and ambassadors who are the leaders to make volunteers and new children feel comfortable.  The staff are strict and expect a great deal from these children but are so very loving.  These staff members are doing a fabulous job and are often the only chance these children have for a positive future.

Our teenagers played more games of pool, foosball, bumper pool and board games then they can likely remember.  We worked in the art room and spent time helping with reading time and summer book reports.  We helped with homework and colored more pictures than I can recall.  We played with the kids at recess and at the park.  These children crave positive attention and just wanted someone to spend time with them engaging in fun activities.

We could not take pictures at the Boys & Girls Club, but if you are on Facebook, check out their page.  It is Tenderloin Clubhouse.  You will see some pictures of our activities that have been posted.  I was told many times by the staff how appreciative they were of our teens.  They cannot handle 140 children without volunteers.  We made an impact in ways that can be seen but also in ways that could not be seen. 

Our days began around 6:00 a.m. and ended around 11:00 p.m.  There was not a single moment of down time.  I know Steve posted our schedule on Facebook, and it was our schedule every day.  Our evening activities were so fun as we were able to see Shoreline Regional Park, the Goldengate Bridge, Inpiration Point and feeding the community with a BBQ.  I simply cannot pick a favorite activity or event because they all hold special memories.

I think each of us can identify one time in our week that especially spiritual or emotional.  Anyone who truly knows me recognizes that I am a "crier", and my time was on Wednesday evening when we went to Inspiration Point.  Normally, it is cloudy and cold.  On that night, it was warm and completely clear with a sunset God must have painted just for us.  I realized how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to the children the next day.  I was wondering what will happen with these children who now hold a special place in my heart.  For many, it is the Boys & Girls Club who will give them their only chance.  I shed a few tears, but completely broke down during the "Yea God" time of our impromptu church service on the hilltop with the sun setting on the horizon.  (Normally, our church time is at the location we were staying.)  For me, it was the most emotional and spiritual experience of the week as I thought about the children from the Boys & Girls Club, watched our teenagers engage and ask some very thought provoking questions and sharing God's beauty in nature with worship.

I could go on and on with stories and experiences from the trip.  There are just too many to share in this blog.  It was a honor and pleasure to share this experience with nine fabulous teenagers from Community Lutheran Church.  This experience was very personal for each and every one of us, but I firmly believe each teen was impacted more then they thought possible.  The gift of service was truly abundant and alive through these teens.  I hope each of you have an opportunity to speak with them so they can share their experiences.    

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