It always impresses me how much energy and spirit 12 year-olds have. It took a little while for me to remember my three years worth of camp counseling skills and strategies.
*Never try to speak over children, they’ll just get louder.
*Be real with them – they can see right through a façade. Plus, it’s more exhausting to be someone you’re not.
*It’s ok to make mistakes. Children are much more willing to love you anyway.
We arrived at Sly Park on November 10, and saw over 600 children pass through the yellow gates, under the Incense Cedars and Douglas Firs. I don’t remember my specific trials of being an eleven year old. I think I knew that things were changing, and fast, but my not yet mature mind had no concept of how much growing up I yet had to do. I would have been so scared of it if I knew what was coming. Maybe that’s why each of us worked so hard to be present with the kids that came there. We know what’s up next for them, even if we don’t know the specifics. Some kids are already there – have already seen far too much for their age. For them, it’s about letting them be kids again, giving them a break from what they know.
So, we spent 5 weeks leading them to new places, helping them learn about the rocks and trees and sky, making sure they were tucked in at night.
There are things that I realized during my time at SlyPark that I don’t think I ever slowed down before to see, at least not with the clarity that I had during my time there.
There is a beauty there I doubt I took full advantage of. It is found in the stillness between the trees and their shadows, the way the sun peaks through the evergreens, and the beaten trails that tell of each soul that has passed over it. There is comfort in these things. But overall I have determined that every new place I see is not new at all. It’s different, but the process is always the same. There is always an acclimatization period – that time when you’re stomach is in knots, the place where you are seems too big to ever get to know, and the people around you are covered in waves of mystery and reluctance. It’s when you look at what’s around you and measure up the people, the program, the place you are in and the places you are going. What’s known? What’s unknown? Trust is built by time and presence, and it doesn’t hit you that you have found comfort there until everything seems just so. It’s when you figure out if any of those things matter anymore. It’s when you realize that this program is you, in the present, in a place, and that’s all life is really ever going to be: You, in the present, in a place.
We became children ourselves, letting loose our need for play and laughter and chocolate chip cookies. We became what those students needed us to be, and through that, melded ourselves into independent, compassionate leaders. I know this will serve us well with the rest of our time in AmeriCorps NCCC.
Our first project helped us grow and change. We opened our hearts for others to lay hands on them. We found an exhaustion, and in it, comfort from these people – this random group of people that perchance will be our family, that must be our family. And so, upon leaving, were we still at a loss of what we were going to learn from Sly Park? Was it that our hearts will break every time we say goodbye? That eventually, when these 10 months are through, our time spent with each other will be the valuable thing?
We ended up back in Sacramento on December 7, where we will start and end all of these journeys. It makes me a little bitter to have to come back to campus to be reminded of who we were before this whole mess. I just hope we can hold on to whatever it was we found during our time away.
Up next for Green 6 is serving from January 8 – February 2 in New Jersey, assisting with disaster relief from Superstorm Sandy.