One of our long time tutors, Pete Chastain, recently shared with us this piece that he wrote about the time he spends tutoring at one of our partner locations, Dayspring Center. There are often so many things that we want to convey about tutoring, but our words come up short. This piece by Pete, however, says it all.
Once a week, during the school year, I make my way to 16th and Central on the Old Northside of Indianapolis and spend an hour with a child.
I have a curious relationship with that corner. There’s a Church there, All Saints Episcopal. For many years I was an occasional attendee because of family connections. Recently, I’ve become a more regular member of the congregation.
I’m sure many people see the church on their way by—Central is a quick route to get to the heart of downtown—but what they may not know is that the long, brick rectangle of a building perpendicular to the Church proper is actually a separate entity.
It’s a shelter for homeless families, the Dayspring Center. I tutor there.
It ain’t much to look at. It’s a functional building, not a decorative one, and it looks a bit tired, especially on the inside. One pulls in around the back, into a roughish parking lot, and enters through a non-descript entry way—buzzing for access inside the building—and walks past some offices, past the bathroom with the injured drywall, into a corridor that is, more often than not, filled with the flotsam and jetsam of a homeless shelter—loose bags of donated clothing, or stacks of used books, or cardboard boxes filled with who knows what— and then into the cafeteria, with its small but functional kitchen and it’s dozen or so tables and the ceiling of stained and chipped acoustic tiles.
And that’s where the magic happens.
I’ve seen moments of true beauty in that room.
Of course, there is no true beauty in life without sorrow, and there is certainly sorrow in a homeless shelter.
Sometimes one hears something that opens a window onto a whole world of unknown pain—“We used to have four dogs but they’re all dead now”…
Sometimes one sees the sorrow—in a little boy who can’t concentrate on homework because there is food on the table over there and he wants to take some upstairs to his room because he doesn’t trust that there will be food later.
Sometimes one sees the sorrow in a child who is so angry that she will not speak your name or look you in the eye or acknowledge you in any way. Or a child who is entering kindergarten and who can’t tell you if there are three or four crayons on the table.
Sometimes one sees the sorrow in a child who insists that her friend is her sister and has a complete meltdown if you refer to her by her legal name rather than the one she wants to use.
Sometimes there is joy.
There is the child who says, “Oh, I get it!”
There is the child who gives spontaneous hugs.
There is the child who paints a picture and gives it away to another child who likes it.
There is the child who at 16 writes a poem so profoundly meaningful, and so well written, and so ultimately positive that it brings tears to one’s eyes.
There are the other tutors. Some are older, some are younger; some are experienced teachers, some are novice tutors; some come with their parents, or with their children; many are students; more are women than men.
They’re all the same, though; they are all there to support kids, to help them, to teach them, to guide them, to cheer them, to boost them….To love them. And to learn from them.
That’s what it comes down to, I think; it’s about love. And learning.
All the kids are the same, too, in a way. They are all different shapes and sizes and colors and flavors, of course; I’ve worked with kindergarteners through seniors in high school. Some are exceptionally gifted; some have severe developmental issues; some are motivated, some not.
In other words, they are more like any other group of kids than they are different. The circumstance of their housing situation means that they face challenges, but don’t we all?
All these kids are the same—they all want to be loved. They want to be treated well. They want to have fun. They want to play. They want to win.
Don’t we all?
For me, that hour once a week is important. It has become more than a habit. It has become foundational to my world view.
I may get there tired, or stressed, or worried; I’ve been there after sleepless nights and moments of personal pain.
I almost always leave with a smile. I almost always learn something— some trick of the trade (Math Problem? Draw a picture of it for me!) or something about an individual child (“I’d like to play the violin”) or something about myself (Hmm, I’ve forgotten ALL of my high school Algebra).
Even when things go badly, I learn what not to do (Never ever give out candy! Nothing good can come of it!)
Mostly what I learn is something about love. I see a woman working with a youngster on math homework with little plastic dinosaurs as counters. That’s love. I see a big guy with tattoos and a shaved head challenge a student to write 4 paragraphs. That’s love. I see a tired woman who hands out gummies to all the kids for their snack, and smiles at each and every one of them. That’s love.
I do see these things, and hear these things, and feel these things… but mostly, what happens, is that for an hour a week, my focus shrinks to one kid, and everything else is filtered out of my consciousness. There could be a riot going on at the next table (and there sometimes is)—but my attention will be centered on the kid I’m working with that evening. And I’ll be experiencing a little slice of that child’s life, and doing what I can to help.
To me, that’s love.
Isn’t that what we all want?
Do you have just one hour a week to spare? Use that hour to make a difference by becoming a volunteer tutor like Pete. Apply today!