The mass of immature teens and their younger counterparts immersed from the separate schoolyards. Soon enough by 2:40, laughter bellowed through the lifeless trees lined up beside the sidewalk. I’d say lifeless, because it's the middle of October… in Phoenix, Arizona. Not only are these trees dead year round, they're ripped of the only dignity they may have left when it gets remotely chilly.
“ummmm? Helen Keller who?” my impatient friend piped in, interrupting my wandering eyes from following the bare branches above us.
“Oh?” I replied sarcastically out of habit, “what did you say?”
“Karen, why are we doing this?”
His remark made me peer over the schoolhouse. Although limited in students, the area opposite to the park resonated with restlessness. We flashed a courteous smile towards the crossing guard before I snuck in another snide face towards him.
“I wouldn’t know why you agreed to do this,” I smirked at the slight scoff he tried to keep silent, “but I happen to like kids. Suppose you’re not adopting?”
“Honey, I don’t think so”
Our casual bickering continued as we crossed the empty parking lot of Maryland Elementary. Its outdated brick architecture and traditional theme masked the chaos captivated inside the relatively large cafeteria. To the naked eye, this school is really neat. Unfortunately for Chrisen and I, we knew this place quite well.
“What time is it?”
He pondered over the rosy colored sign up sheet and tapped the decorative office pen against the clipboard. Then, rendering the attention of the few ladies who resided in their desks leisurely talking amongst themselves. I pulled out my phone and tapped the screen twice.
I was then offered the pen to sign up for the evening’s STEM program. It is one of the many volunteer events that our high school National Honor’s Society offers, but still remains as one of my favorites. I hastily wrote my name on the sheet and gave a curious glance at the artificial flower blossom taped to the end of the writing utensil. Surely, we had less than ten minutes to get to the cafeteria to meet the other volunteers; I propped a bright red sticker on my chest and entered campus.
“GROUP C GO WITH MRS. KAT, SHE NEEDS TWO HELPERS” A slim figured woman in floral attire and a black pencil skirt called out into a mic. Fortunately for us, we were lined up beside the podium, and beside three colossal speakers expressing her rules for the evening. Note the sarcasm.
Soon enough, I left the building with a group of less than fifteen students. All within the age range of 5-13 and full of various personalities. My randomly selected teacher for the day, Mr. Brown, was a timid man in his mid 40’s. He led our group into what seemed to be the band room; it was cleaned up for the occasion. Before the smart board, keyboards were placed on top of a group of desks encircling a larger one. Several chairs enclosed an awkwardly shaped oval right next to the door. Mr. Brown confidently began with our first group and instructed me to retrieve some buckets from the corner.
“What song do you guys wanna play?”
A flurry of children responded with modern music I wasn't even familiar with. I knew it was going to be a long day; absolutely everyone talked about this activity room. Volunteers in our group called it the dreaded “drumming room,” and as far as I can tell, luck is not on my side.
“Can I help you?!” three little boys eagerly asked when the tall stack of buckets was settled before them.
All I had to do for the day was arrange buckets with the kids and make sure everyone had drumsticks, this job was easy enough. I praised them for being such sweethearts and kindly declined their offer. Our first group was horrendous. A pair of boys were reluctant to keep a steady beat and smacked their drumsticks harshly against their cylindrical containers. The booming against plastic rang within my eardrums for a good half hour until the actual school bell rang and silenced the chaotic scene. It was finally time for our second group to arrive, and I was hoping to avoid noise-induced hearing loss by the end of the day.
“That was the worst group I’ve ever had”
The wooden shaft nearly snapped beneath my palm. I couldn’t have possibly gotten so lucky as to get the worst group this poor man has seen on the day I’m selected to volunteer.
“Really?” He glanced back at me hesitantly as we waited by the classroom door waiting for our next group. I figured he seemed to let go around me considering the fact that I was not an administrator.
“Yep” He admitted.
We stood there in the weary silence for a couple minutes until we realized our children haven’t arrived yet. Mr. Brown fidgeted on the spot and peered through the chain linked fences at the corner of the building. I stood aloofly by the door, casually leaning against the cold metal and watching the leaves drift away from the remaining trees by the basketball court. I wondered if the students oftentimes got their sporting equipment stuck up there.
“So… do you know where they should be coming from?”
“I’m a volunteer…”
“Right….right” He tapped his fingers anxiously along his sides. I curled my lips to the side in thought. It was fortunate for him that I had prior experience on this campus.
“I think they come from the slime room. 412?”
His incomprehensible groan that sounded similar to an ‘I don’t know’ made things clear.Within the convenient span of three seconds, a roar of laughter emerged from around the corner an towards us. Brown and I looked at each other dead in the eyes and wondered if we should sigh of frustration or relief. While Mr. Brown greeted the other male teacher that escorted the children to the band room, I remained by the entrance to welcome the new group. I flashed a smile as some tried to make eye contact; one boy in particular was courteous enough to try to bite my arm. Others either waved hello or shared unecessary facts about their pets and such. To be frank, I found it adorable.
I took the usual routine and headed towards the stack of colored buckets of all sizes. It seemed like few young’uns had already dispatched themselves to get their own, or so I thought.
“Can we help you?” Three little boys almost said in perfect unison. Their doleful eyes almost caught me off guard from what was occuring right behind them
“Awe you guys are such sweethearts, but how about we- Hey! What do you think you’re doing, hon?”
A young boy with distinctive red hair rummaged through the crate of drumsticks. I kept a calm but authoritative demeanor as I asked him to find a seat; however, I didn’t know at the time that he was the actual devil. By the time everyone sat down, Mr. Brown was up front arranging whatever business he had with his laptop. The percussion lesson proceeded smoothly until a familiar devious character began to intentionally abuse his bucket. Our instructor kept his composure and continued with the lesson. It was not long until the child once again retaliated more intensely, this time, by disrupting Mr. Brown with his own simulated drum. The poor man had enough when the drumsticks were swiped directly out of his left hand.
The two exchanged glances and at this point I think they declared war. The boy’s caramel eyes then portrayed an inferno and his devious smile was similar to the infamous Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Yet at the same time, it was uncannily endearing. This kid is a natural, I decided to stay out of it.
“You're lucky you're cute, or you would have gotten in trouble a long time ago.” Mr. Brown took his snide behavior quite well and calmly confiscated his orange bucket and mismatched drumsticks.
Nonetheless, it was my turn to handle him when Mr. Brown headed over to the smart board in desperation of finding a song they could drum along to. All I could do at the moment was survey the area.
“Hey! I saw you yesterday!” a young boy with blond hair and a tie dyed t-shirt cauroommy attention from across the room.
It felt like a ray of positive sunshine on a day of plunder. It felt like a form of appreciation.
“Hey! I did see you now didn't I?” I made my enthusiasm match his. It was always one trait that I admired about this kid in particular.
His bright attitude is not common within children anymore, it was heartwarming to see. It's even more heartwarming when he recognized me from several previous STEM activities. Our pleasant conversation was cut short when I catch the devil child take the drumsticks of another. Immediately, I strived in that direction with a calm, placid face and bent down almost menacingly. His grin didn't falter a bit.
“I think we both know what I’m about to ask you.”
With the simple gesture to my hand, he caught on and placed them there. Only to spring off in another direction and wreak havoc someplace else.
“Come on you guys, how about we do a dance? Look, follow along here,” Mr. Brown at this point seemed to have given up and decided to pull up a random dance video on the board.
“Watch,” he stood up front awkwardly “you dab, dab, whip”
“Oh my god, no.” I had accidentally uttered under my breath. It was something I did not need to see.
To Mr. Brown’s luck, the five minute bell rang and it was time for us to pack up again. Once more, those three boys offered to help me clean up. I didn't bother to decline this time. However, not long after, there was a quarrel with the older students lounging around the back with the piano.
“Give me your bucket!”
“But you have to give it!”
“I want her to take it!”
At this point I had already caught on. Heading in their direction, I did as they wished and silently proceeded my work. With all that had happened that day so far, I didn't particularly care about a group of grade schoolers’ fancy for me.
By the time they left, our last group of students was much more tolerable. Two students I had met before recognized me. One even bothered to remember my name, which still motivates me to visit Maryland to this day. They're moments like this that convince me to do community service. As crazy as it may seem, and as annoyed as Chrisen gets with me every time we do this, I believe it to be worth it. No matter how hellish the work may be. There is always that one spark of a moment that brightens your day. And when I get home from an event, I’m not only dead tired, but determined to visit again.