Summer Reading

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This summer, I began my fourth summer working at the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood. In past summers, I had played dodgeball, made arts and crafts, and gone on field trips with several children whose parents could otherwise not afford such activities. I understood the monumental effects the Club had on these children’s lives, providing them many opportunities to gain confidence, learn skills, and develop interests in a very supportive environment. My respect for and connection with the Club grew immensely this summer in particular. I began my first morning in the Games Room, a room equipped with a caroms table, three pool tables, ping-pong, and even an air hockey machine. In the corner of the large room, a cabinet enclosed various board games, puzzles, and activities the kids were able to check out. On the other side was a lunch area, where a balanced meal was served every day of the summer to every child, free of charge. I watched the children playing for a while, observing the dynamics of the room. Within the first few minutes, the first conflict arose. One boy, Juan, a young boy of about eight, was arguing with and yelling at one of his peers. He soon ran off to a new activity, but I sensed this boy might be somewhat of a troublemaker. Throughout the week, I witnessed a few occasions of this boy causing trouble, disrupting activities, and refusing to listen to direction.

About a week later, I started spending two hours each day in the Learning Center. This is my favorite room in the Boys and Girls Club – though the computer lab, art room, and music rooms are excellent, the time I spent in the Learning Center was unique. One-third library, with books ranging from the most basic picture books with three or four word captions to Fiske College Guides for the Club’s teenagers, and two-thirds learning space, housing desks, a few computers, and a wall of games, it supplies endless activities. First, I worked with Mariana, who had difficulty learning to count by twos. So I sat with her and an abacus, numbers side displayed, while she practiced. She would count with ease (2, 4, 6, 8) until around 50, (Fifty…two? Fifty…um…three?) when she would suddenly become confused, and mess up. As I sat with her and advised her, she slowly began to connect the first 50 to the last 50, and finally began to count with more confidence. I worked with her for two days, but later in the summer she would still run up to me, proudly demonstrating her new skill. I also worked with Elejia, who was learning to count with fake money. I would tell her an amount, and she would count out the sum using quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies. I loved watching her excitement, such as when she noticed that nine pennies could be reduced with a nickel. Working with Alan was more challenging, due to his fear of reading and resulting stutter. As he read, he would get caught on words, and often gave up, trying to skip over whole pages. Encouraging him to repeat phrases he had trouble with did not appease him, but helped him to slowly improve. Working with these kids always made me smile, because I could see their improvements right before me. The pride they felt after overcoming a difficult struggle was palpable, and was a constant reminder of why I spent so much time with the organization.

The absolute most rewarding experience this summer, however, was the time I spent reading with the infamous Juan. I did not initially know what to think when he walked into the learning center and I was assigned to work with him. I expected him to resist, wanting to play more than to read. I was sure he would reject any suggestions I provided, too. Quite the contrary. He came over to me with a laminated sheet of paper: on one side was a story, on the other were questions about the story and the vocabulary used, among others. The sheet displayed a large 7 in the top corner, signaling that it was one of many in a set of stories and questions for beginning yet ambitious readers. As soon as he started to read, I could tell that I was mistaken. He completed the story with ease, and eagerly responded when I asked him the questions. When he had answered all of the questions for story 7, he ran to the staff member’s desk and turned it in, immediately returning with another one. I didn’t question him, as I was delighted with his excitement. That afternoon, we read and worked on three of the stories together. By the end of the week, we were on story 15. I don’t know if I can pinpoint exactly what it was about my time with Juan that I enjoyed so much. Maybe it was how confidently he answered the questions as he became more comfortable with the style in which they were written. It could have been that even when he knew the answer, he always looked at me for approval, wanting recognition and reassurance. But it really hit me on my last day. His face fell when I told him I wouldn’t be back for a while, and I realized just how much of an impact I had on his life. It seemed that he enjoyed our time together just as much as I had.

My experiences with the various children at the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood this year only intensified my belief of the benefits that the organization has on young children and teenagers from economically disadvantaged families. I watched them play sports, I moderated their games, and I viewed firsthand the effect one-on-one help can have on a struggling child. The Club gives children who may not have the money or resources for the future they deserve a second home where they can learn, play, and develop a positive, promising outlook on life.





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