I have written previously about my involvement with an outreach program focused on a housing project in east Austin. A few months back, one of my friends had approached me with an idea. He wanted to start a tutoring and literacy program for the kids in that area that we had been dealing with over the past year or two. Yesterday, I was able to participate in this fledgling program, which is now a reality.
The kids in the housing project that we know range from 5-15 years old. Once, when I first started helping there, we asked some of the kids to read aloud from a simple program, and there were several of the older kids who simply could not read at all. Coming from a home with several early readers and as a lover of words, this strikes me as tragic, although I know it is not really that rare.
I arrived yesterday at 5:30pm, and I was there until around 7:00. I first worked with a six-year old girl who looks almost exactly like Dora the Explorer from the TV show. I have seen her for about a year and a half, because she and her nine-year old brother have regularly attended our monthly events through the church. In fact, he was one of the first kids that I met when I started in the fall of 2006.
I helped her with her homework, which was really just a few simple math and reading worksheets. She is really very sharp, and she breezed through the pages. I assumed that she would want to leave, but then she asked with much anticipation, "Can we read now?"
There was a box of garage sale kids' books that my friend had brought, and we read through two of them. She read the small words, and I helped with the bigger words when she got stuck. After that, she drew a beautiful picture with a rainbow and clouds and wrote, "I love you Dad and Mom." I realize that this sounds really normal, but her mom has been missing since December and no one knows at this point if she is even alive.
I met her mom a number of times, and I know that she struggled with drug addiction. It is unclear if she abandoned her family, or if foul play was involved somehow. Their dad now cares for their three children, who just happen to be the exact same age as my own children – 9, 6, and 2. I can't imagine how he must feel now. That used to be the only two-parent household in the entire complex, since it is pretty much exclusively single moms.
I worked with two other kids last night, one of whom I know quite well. I am planning to go through our hundreds of books and find a boxful to bring with me next time. Overall, I think it went very smoothly and I hope we can make it a permanent program. The parents are certainly supportive of our efforts, so that's the crux of the issue.
Some of the kids have talked to me about what they want to do when they grow up – one of my favorites told me that he wants to be a lawyer. Another one wants to be a nurse. I would love nothing better than to see this happen.