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One Last Hug

The total of six days spent in South Bend last summer were truly inspiring. Being able to do something for others, such as showing love to children who may not always receive it at home, was a life changing experience. By the end of the week, we were exhausted, and most of the group’s arms hurt from holding and carrying the kids. However, it was worth all of the pain just to see the kids’ faces light up with a smile in the Keller Park community.
In the economically struggling Keller Park community, it is normal for the children to leave home in the morning and play all day without checking in with the parents, meaning many dangerous events could occur. The children often get into physical fights, as well as verbal disputes, which we experienced first-hand. Thankfully, there were a few older teens, like Benny, who the kids looked up to, and he would help break up the fights. Although this was my first year going, our church group has helped this community in the past, so throughout the years, the church group has grown close to Benny. Benny, only about fifteen years old, had to step up and be a mature role model for the younger kids in the neighborhood and is like a big brother overseeing everything.
Carl was one of the kids whom we grew close to during the time we were in South Bend, Indiana. We had met Carl at the community park on the first day of our visit. He was one of the happiest little kids, always smiling. He laughed at everything and anything. I will never forget him! One of the saddest events that week was when Carl said, “I’m hungry.” It was about three o’clock, so one of our youth leaders asked him, “Well, Carl, what did you have for lunch today?”
“Nothing,” he replied.
“What about for breakfast?”
“I didn’t eat breakfast,” he said.
It was heartbreaking to think that he hadn’t eaten anything all day! That meant that the only meal he was going to get the entire day was the free supper before “Kid’s Camp.” What was going to happen after the week was over, and he wouldn’t have a free meal? Unfortunately, Tuesday was the last day we saw Carl; we couldn’t even say good-bye. Allison, another youth member, and I talked and thought about Carl every day that week, hoping we would see him at least one last time before we left. We even had three brothers, James, Marshawn, and Jameir, show us where Carl lived. They walked us to his house, but once we arrived, they told us that it didn’t look like Carl was home. To this day, Allison and I still talk about Carl, hoping to see his bright, smiling face next year.
Another memorable girl was Damaria. She was six and had the biggest smile. We also met her in the park one day when she was with her sister Alaysiah. Damaria loved to give big hugs and would even call a few of the girls in the youth group “Mom.” Swinging was a favorite activity amongst the kids, so we took turns pushing the kids until they reached a height with which they were content. Although the playground full of weeds, old, creaky swings, and a beat up merry-go-round may not have been the best looking park, it was sufficient for the kids to spend hours upon hours playing there.
Each night of the week, neighborhood kids arrived at the church to enjoy a free supper and a program that taught the children more about God. Suppertime was the connecting time. There was a total of anywhere from four to eight kids in each group, all close to the same age. We used that time to get to know each one of them. If a child had a story to share, we made sure to give him or her our full attention and ask questions, showing that we had an interest. After supper, we started off by singing, dancing, and shouting to a variety of songs. Holding on tightly, many children clung to the youth leaders and dance to the upbeat songs. Toward the end of the week, a little girl in my group named Chamari started shouting the song, singing, “We worship You. Hallelujah, Hallelujah.” Chamari was only about five years old and couldn’t read, so for her to have learned the song throughout the week and now to be shouting and praising God was a really neat moment that I will never forget.
After music time, we sat down in our group and listen to the leaders speak. Each leader of the small groups seemed to have a lapful of kids eagerly listening. Every night, the kids learned about a new topic and the color that it represented. They were able to take home a bracelet at the end of the week with each colored bead on it to remind them what they had learned. Love was red; sin was black; forgiveness was white; hope was yellow, and community was green and blue. The leaders stressed the important word each day. For example, they would say, “God doesn’t just love us, he loooooooooovvvess us!” Another memorable saying was on day four when the leaders taught the kids about hope, saying, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, hope is knowing Jesus is right next to you.” All of these sayings were embedded into the children’s minds, hoping that they would take something away from the “Kid’s Camp.”
Friday night, the last day of “Kid’s Camp,” was the time to say goodbye to our little group members that we had become so attached to. Chamari was one of the hardest to leave. I walked her to her house, a few houses down the street from the church, and she kept asking, “But why do you have to leave?” I told her that I had to, but she wasn’t satisfied with that answer. “But why can’t you stay a few more days?” or “But I’ll miss you!” she said.
“I have to go,” I told her. “I don’t have a choice.”
Chamari had a plan for each reply. “You can buy some clothes and stay here longer.” The week spent with Chamari at the park and at “Kid’s Camp” was great, making it even more difficult to leave her. After my last explanation, I said my final good-bye, bent down, picked up her little, five-year-old body, and spun her around, wrapping her tightly in my arms. With one last hug, I turned to walk from her home back to the church to join the rest of the youth group to get ready to pack up.





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ChelseaB said...
Nov. 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm
Britni, you're just an amazing writer and person.  Keep up your sweetness, and I hope you see Chamari and Carl again! :) <3
 
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