In a small house in Salyersville, KY, there is a quotation written on a wall. It goes like this: "Telling the world what you learned here leaves both you and them unsatisfied. Instead, show the world what you found, so that with others, you can celebrate in its beauty, be joyful in its pain, and live with an undying hope." I used to believe this quotation applied to one specific experience in my life. But with God's gift of time I have come to perceive this quotation as containing much more. I believe it applies to the profound experiences and encounters occurring every single day. Experiences and encounters that, quite frankly, are offered to each and every one of us, particularly when we choose to live in kinship with others.
It is in light of this reflection that I seek to share with you the many unique wonders that come together to create a day in my life as an AmeriCorps member and long-term CAP Volunteer, tutoring at Whitley Elementary and assisting with the SPARK afterschool program at Eagle Community Center in McCreary County, KY. I desire this to be not a telling, but a "showing," with the hope that it may lead you to "celebrate in [life's] beauty, be joyful in its pain, and live with an undying hope," and maybe, just maybe, come and see things for yourself.
A typical day for me begins at 6:25 a.m. after I've exhausted the few extra minutes granted me by hitting "snooze" on my alarm clock. Then comes the piece of my day that, for me, makes all things possible; I take some time to gather myself in prayer. Personal prayer beyond our normal community prayer is something CAP's Volunteer Program highly encourages, and it is a part of my day I try never to miss. It helps form the lens through which I experience the joys and challenges of the day ahead and receive it all as a gift from God.
After some other typical morning routines, bumping into some of my other community members as they prepare for their own programs, I head out the door and the fun really begins. A quick stop in the office and community center to check in and gather my things and then I head into town to Whitley City Elementary, one of McCreary County's two elementary schools. I arrive and gather my first group of reading students, 4th graders. During my time in the school I'll meet with groups of 1st through 4th graders for math and reading as well as running a homework center where I help students with incomplete assignments. There is so much joy and grace, so many gifts of light in this time, I often struggle to make room in my heart for it all. There's the joy of little success, words pronounced correctly that were merely a blabber before. The goofy stories kids will tell such as the pet dinosaur they keep in their backyard. There are the hugs I receive for seemingly no reason from kids I never met and the excitement on faces when I appear at the door ready to pick them up for our session. There's also light amidst the challenges. When behavior, not multiplication, seems to be the focus and I come to realize that this too is learning. When I realize that it's the way I'm teaching, not what I'm teaching that is really the obstacle and I must stand humbly before that. In it all there is joy. There is life. There is love.
Phew! If you're feeling like that's a lot already then you're right with me on the journey, because that's usually how I'm feeling at this point of the day. It's about 2:30 p.m. I've finished with the last tutoring group and I'm on my way back to Eagle Community Center because we still have SPARK!
Back at Eagle I meet up with Joe, another AmeriCorps member who serves in the in pre-school during the day as well as two others from CAP. All four of us make final preparations for SPARK—prepping food, setting down tables, etc. Then comes one of my favorite moments—we open the doors as the kids get off the bus. They come running in. Hunched under backpacks, jackets trailing behind by the sleeve. They pack their things away, take a seat, and we all share a snack together. It's really a beautiful moment when all the kids, kindergarteners to high schoolers, eat and spend this time together. The moment when I am reminded that we all really do "belong to one another."
Next up is our group game. This can be anything from dodgeball to tag. A time for running, jumping, yelling, playing, chaotic fun. Once all of that energy is out of their systems, we have an opportunity for the kids to do homework, work on projects, read, whatever academic activity that will help them grow. We end our day with free time. Kids ride bikes, play basketball, among many other things. It's their time!
By 6:15 p.m. the last of the kids have been picked up and Joe and I are on our way home—about a 60-second walk—for dinner and prayer with our community. This is always a time laden with light and joy. It's time not only to decompress and share, but to listen and simply dwell in the presence and love of others. It is also a beautiful bookend to the day as prayer is one of the last things I do. A little bit of personal time before I hit the hay in preparation for another day.
That's what's in a day—or at least what I can fit into this limited space. I hope you were able to get a better glimpse of what life is like as an AmeriCorps member and volunteer with CAP. Each one of us lives a different day, but all of them are uniquely beautiful. On paper I'm a tutor, a mentor, a giver, a bestower of knowledge to these kids. While in some way I am all of those things, if you take anything away from what I have written above let it be this: Sure, I teach, but I am also taught. I mentor but am also mentored. I share but am also floored by what I hear: The creativity, joy, and yes, even pain sometimes. But truly, I am far more often the recipient than I am the "provider." And oh how beautiful that is. Each and every day I am humbled that the people I encounter, the kids I work with, even my coworkers allow me to be a part of their lives. I am not here because I am an especially good person, because I am any more generous than the next person, or because it makes me feel good. I am here because it's where I need to be. Because if I wasn't, then a part of me would be missing. I'm not here to help "them.” I'm here because I've found the greatest joy in the realization that there really is no "us" and "them." There's just "us."
Tim is serving as a long-term volunteer and an AmeriCorps Youth Worker at CAP's Eagle Child and Family Development Program. He is a member of the McCreary Volunteer Community. Opinions expressed in volunteer blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CAP or the Volunteer Program. If you would like to learn more about CAP's Volunteer Program or connect with a current volunteer like Tim, please contact us.