Nick single-handedly created his own summertime volunteer job at the community center. A little over a month ago, he asked if it was a good idea if he volunteered with the day camp program. There was no sign or advertisement for it. The community center people weren’t looking for a volunteer. The idea originated with him.
I said, sure, it’s a great idea. Let’s see what we have to do to make it happen.
I know the community center directors and stopped in to ask them if Nick could work with the kids and counselors this summer. They were open to the idea, but kind of nonplussed. They had never had anyone offer to volunteer with the day camp program before. They didn’t know what creating the position would entail. But, yeah, sure, we can talk about it, they said.
So, Nick and I sat down and crafted an E-mail, a letter, if you will, that said who he was (and that he was my son), what he wanted to do, and when he was available to do it. He told them that he attended the day camp every summer from when he was 5 until he was 11. He liked the camp very much, he said, and he was interested in being involved with the kids and the adult counselors. We sent the letter to the director from his E-mail address. It was a very grown up thing to do and I was very proud of him.
After about two weeks we did not hear anything from the community center guys. I told Nick that he should call Genaro, the director, and talk to him. “But, dad, can’t you call him for me?” he said. “No,” I said. “The directors need to know that this impulse is yours and not mine.”
He fiddled and faddled, himmed and hawed, but finally went into the back room and made the call. I walked by the closed door at one point. I didn’t mean to listen in but heard Nick chattering away. They were on the phone for almost 20 minutes. When he came out, I asked him if it went well. Nick’s very noncommittal about things, but said, yeah, it was a good talk.
After about a week, we had not heard anything. I stopped in at the center to ask about Nick volunteering. Steve, the co-director, said that there was a hitch with the parks department. Some in the department wanted a background check. Steve and Genaro pushed back, saying it was ridiculous to do a background check on a 15 year old. Besides, they had known Nick since he was just a little kid and they knew me and how to get a hold of me if things went wrong.
Steve told me, “So, let’s do this: Have him show up here on Monday (June 5) and we will set up a schedule. It may be just a couple of hours a week, or it may be that we need him just for field trips, or whatever, but we will figure something out.”
Well, Nick wanted me to go with him the first day. I thought about it and told him that this was something that he would have to do himself. I know he was nervous about it but this was going to be easy for him. He knew the directors and some of the counselors. It was a matter of going in and saying, “I’m here.”
(Virginia gave me real heat for making him go by himself. But I remember one of the best things Bill Dobson made me do was to go to my first summer job by myself. Boy, I was scared and apprehensive. But I did it and felt it was one of my great accomplishments. Now, Bill Dobson was just being lazy. I was thinking of Nick making his own way. Maybe, I should have gone with him, but it worked out for him far better than he or I thought.)
Well, he didn’t come home that first day at the center until 5:45 p.m. He goes in every workday and works with the kids from 7:30 until 5:30. He gets himself up in the morning and makes his own breakfast, gets dressed and walks the quarter mile to the center. One day he had to come home early, 3 p.m., due to a doctor appointment, and one day he came home at noon for an eye doctor appointment. Except those two times, he’s been at it ten hours a day.
Nick’s not a big talker—only the facts, ma’am. From what I gather, he herds the kids up the block about 8 a.m. for breakfast at the clubhouse for the apartment and townhouse complex across the street from our house. It’s a low-income kid program that HUD conducts at the complex. After, he shepherds them back. At that time, they recreate in the community room until the yoga classes are over, when the kids move to the gym for games—basketball, soccer, dodgeball, etc. Then, it’s lunch in the community room. They spend afternoons in the gym or at the public swimming pool in the park just up from our house. That means, he helps get the kids about a half mile from the center to the pool. Some afternoons, they have field trips to the zoo, another public swim park up north of the river, and to museums—Nelson Atkins, World War I Museum, etc. Sometimes the counselors send him out with a group of the older kids to pick up trash around the community center grounds.
He stays with the kids and counselors until the kids’ parents pick them up at the end of the day. He comes home and takes up with a book or with his videos on his phone. Sometimes he plays games on the computer with his friends. (That’s a phenomenon all its own.)
Here’s the thing: He needed 40 community service hours this summer for his high school. By the time the summer camp ends in August, he will have something like 450. Plus, as far as the directors are concerned he’s setting himself up for a summer job next year as a counselor-in-training with the parks department. This means that he might be working at any one of the five community centers in the city. Of course, this is going to mean he gets a ride or, god forbid, has to drive to his job.
So, in the end, he’s entangling himself in very adult-ish things by volunteering this summer. We will see how things go, but, I tell you, I’m proud of the kid. Virginia and I did something right.