Saturday, August 28, 2010

Photographic memories of "At-risk" youth

Ahhh...finally a little down time this week. The summer program is over and we are ramping up for our After-School programs. No light task, but it does allow for a slight reprieve.

To allow me to procrastinate the planning I need to do for the Education Department training week and ensure I'll be working under a tight deadline for no reason, I decided to change offices. It's a bigger office with more windows and more wall space. I can get all of the papers off of the floor and organize a little better.

As with all moving jobs, it allowed me to sift through stuff, throwing away the pointless, old stuff and discovering treasures I had forgotten about long ago. Some of the treasures were photos I'd enlarged or printed on regular paper and stashed away until I could find frames or reasons to use them. Now is that time.

After a few days of cleaning, sifting, and moving furniture, I began to hang photos. I found some frames that had been donated...but others were hung simply with "tacky" directly on the wall. Once I completed the move and had all of the photos hung, I looked around and realized the framing definitely gave it a little "umph," but it wasn't the frames that I was going for when I printed the pictures. It's the meaning behind each one.

As I look around my office, I see...
  • a high school graduation picture
  • two young girls playing and grinning from ear to ear
  • a little boy dressed in a clown suit 
  • friends and cousins jumbled together for a photo op
  • elementary girls helping each other by explaining the homework assignment
  • a little boy on Santa's lap
  • a "cool" teenager posing for a picture
  • boys playing bingo
  • a group of teenagers that are unlikely friends, but bonded because of they all live in the same housing development
  • a hand-drawn picture that says, "God made us equal. And his love too."
But, I also see...
  • a young boy who dropped out of high school, had a baby, and is now married but still has no desire to finish school
  • a young boy who wants to go to college now, at 19, but is struggling because he made a decision to drop out of a college class and now has to pay financial aid back before he can enroll
  • a couple of kids who, despite their best efforts, are quite a challenge to handle when it comes to behavior issues
  • a boy who never wanted to be associated as living in the "projects" and always saw himself as better than the rest of the people there
  • a little girl who has grown into a young teenager with college aspirations
  • a girl who was prostituted by her mother so she could buy drugs
  • a young man who was shot and killed at 21 years of age as he sat at a bus stop
  • a college student in her honors program who will probably finish college in 3 1/2 years
  • kids who now frequent the library/bookstore
  • a little girl who has a very loving grandfather raising her because her mother can't
Each of these pictures...and the stories behind them...remind me of why I exhaust myself at times by over-committing to projects, demanding high expectations from my staff and the kids they work with, looking at school work, accepting weekend phone calls from college students, assisting with college paperwork I know nothing about, and trying to be a good balance of love and accountability. I realize that I have been blessed with college degrees, the ability to connect with people, and resources. Though I do not believe that our works save us, I also realize that not using what I've been given is a waste of what God has provided me.

I love that I can now sit at my desk and reflect on each of these moments that I've been a part of over the years. Each of the youth in the pictures are extremely special to me.

The more devastating situations make me realize how far we have to go....

...and the celebratory ones make me realize how much is possible.
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