There were 180 of them.
One hundred eighty seventh and eighth graders from our local Middle School. Short, tall, thin, fat, happy, sad, friendly, unfriendly, walking in clumps or alone. Verging on adulthood, staring at high school in the Fall, and after that, who knows? And we volunteers had agreed to help entertain them for five mortal hours.
Our church had determined that it was “our Christian duty” to provide a day of outdoor entertainment for the students. Flatbottom, my hubby, stared at me askance when I said I had volunteered to help. The term “Flatbottom” by the way, came from my nail lady, Pam, who says her husband sits on his bottom watching television all day while playing on the computer. Mine does as well, hence the sharing of the term.
“During a SCHOOL day?” he asked. “Why? What’s wrong with summer? They don’t need to be out of school.”
Since I had not been privy to the original decision six years ago when the program started, I had no idea why. I suppose it had sounded like a good idea at the time. The plan was to take the students out to the newly upgraded university “Country Campus” where there are zip lines, ropes courses, arts and crafts buildings, basketball courts, soccer fields, a lake for fishing and a swimming pool. There, the students could have a “free” day. Again, not sure why.
Students had been given the opportunity to choose their top five choices of activities. I cringe at the thought of the already over-burdened teachers tasked with handing out and collecting all the students’ choices—and catching up with the absentees, and explaining the activities, and getting the students to fill out the forms. And sending the forms back to the church.
Then Volunteers at the church laid out a complicated chart fitting all the student choices into the five time slots. Then those same volunteers at the church laboriously made up five individual armbands for each of the students, (let’s see, that’s 180 x 5 = 900!), printing up labels for 180 envelopes, inserting the armbands, and handing off the envelopes to the poor benighted teachers. Well, at least the teachers would get a day off.
Now the Park Pride Day has ballooned into eighteen different activities, complicated charts, maps, organizational meetings, volunteers to staff each of the eighteen activities, nurses available for injuries, rental of equipment, and guides to direct the students. All connected by Walkie-Talkie, of course. Activities had expanded to include anything that a volunteer could think of that might entertain the students. Here, a couple of students supervised to build birdhouses!
For the Wildlife activity, volunteers from Parks and Wildlife laid out table after table of pelts, pictures, and plastic replica animal skulls. They don’t use real skulls anymore, since there are too many “oops” breakages of the real thing. They did bring cages of real live snakes, alligators (small), crawdads, toads and turtles. Bee keepers brought hives and information. Professors from the university brought insect collections and samples of hundreds of critters.
More church volunteers started at 6 am to buy bread, meat and cheese to fix 250 sandwiches. They put together boxes of snacks, bags of cookies and (fortunately), plenty of bananas, apples, and tangerines. Also cases and cases of (Thank you, Lord) water, not cola drinks. Those thirty cases of water are HEAVY! Oh, yes, and lime green T-shirts for each of the Volunteers and any teachers who might show up.
All the equipment, supplies, food and volunteers had to be transported a dozen miles out to the country campus. Fortunately, this year the day was ideal. Sunny blue skies with a cool breeze. I’ve heard that some years in the past it was cold and windy and miserable. Thank goodness for the large cozy “log cabin” buildings with giant fireplaces. But this time the students were herded into the main lodge and welcomed, prayed over, and sent out into the wide world of Mother Nature.
The students were overjoyed to be out of school and on their own. Some happily ignored those laboriously written arm bands. Envelopes were abandoned. Those who had been given a chance to do the Zip line, not everyone however, (which I think was the main reason for the whole idea getting started), happily trotted off across the lake to enjoy their prized arm bands.
In years past, volunteers made sure the students actually went to the activities they had signed up for. Wandering students were herded off to the arts and crafts, or song-writing, or Gaga Ball (what???). Students were run off the soccer fields since there were no volunteers to supervise them. Or not allowed onto the basketball court if “Basketball” was not on the schedule.
This year, the heavy hand of discipline was not in evidence. Students asked our lime-green volunteers where activities were and then wandered off in that direction. They enjoyed painting tiles, doing cards for Mother’s Day, weaving small coasters, painting their finger nails, or faces, or arms or legs, building bird houses, or actually writing their own music. Some played soccer or sand volleyball. Others just wandered. Sat in the sunshine. Watched other activities. Or sat hunched over texting on their phones.
A group of about a dozen boys started playing basketball—not on the schedule. As a spare volunteer, I scurried over to “help.” I didn’t run them off. I was a safety precaution, (insurance, you know). I was there to use my walkie-talkie to call for medical help should it be needed. It wasn’t. They were happy. Racing up and down the court, laughing, grinning, no fights, no disagreements, no problems. Just playing basketball on their own. For the next four hours. I sat and watched them. Perfectly happily.
Flatbottom, who does not volunteer, suggested I was out of my mind. Why would anyone do that much work, just so students could get out of school? I’m not sure why. And today we go back to volunteer for a Church-wide garage sale. And volunteer for a mission trip. And volunteer to teach a Sunday school class. And volunteer and volunteer and volunteer. Why? Just something to do in retirement? Or perhaps a sense of accomplishment in helping others?
Let’s hope so. We need our volunteers.