School’s out for summer! Family vacations are near, and many kids are looking for the nearest pool.
I remember summer as being one of my favorite times of the year, especially when I was old enough to stay “home alone.” Of course, there was always a retired woman close by to check in if needed, serving as the neighborhood grandmother. We rarely checked in…simple house rules, don’t leave the neighborhood, watch your little brother, eat lunch, and don’t set anything on fire. My “neighborhood pack” included boys and girls, black and white, with an age range of 9-12 I would guess. We would ride bikes and play until it was time to eat, trading food under a shade tree or on the nearest carport, then back to our mischief.
Perhaps the world has changed with the times, as we go to work earlier, stay later, and in turn need serial summer camps, professional nanny care, and other measures to provide constant entertainment for our little ones during break. We are blessed indeed to be able to provide more for our kids, but I wonder if we have created unintended consequences through the loss of community…the loss of childhood solidarity. Have we replaced dreaming and cloud shapes with prescribed programming that reinforces “us” and “them?” Do our kids get enough exposure to those of different backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic status to prepare them to be good citizens in the world? Now I am meddling, so forgive the intrusion…but stay with me for a moment.
In my work, I am fortunate to catch a glimpse of random kids being kids during the summer in one of about 100 communities where we provide meals, books, and activities. Our Smart Lunch/Smart Kid program serves about 7,000 kids each day during the summer in 18 counties, with the help of over 1,000 loving volunteers of all ages, even entire families serving together for a day! Each day that we arrive on site at a mobile home park, apartment complex, or a neighborhood cul-de-sac is like traveling back in time. Dozens of kids frolicking around, the one kid with the soccer ball or football addressing his/her tribe with authority, and the neighborhood mom off at a distance remaining vigilant. It reminds me of my childhood, with one exception…lunch is not waiting for these kids in the fridge like it was for me. These kids are waiting for us to provide what is often their first meal of the day.
As meals arrive, the orange t-shirts signal it is safe to approach, and chaos becomes ordered as kids line up for a meal. Many days we have fruit or popsicles, and always a book table for the kids to thumb through “for keeps.” It is a beautiful sight to see the smiling faces, hear the high pitched thank you’s, and receive the occasional hug. For these grateful kids, this is normal. For the people serving it is far from normal, it is gut-wrenching and life-changing at the same time. At this intersection between need and serving, is where the work happens…the work to break the cycle. Not only are these kids receiving a meal with compassion, but they are also given hope that one day they could, as one boy put it “help out like you when I’m bigger.” Their hope, their outlook, is limitless. Perhaps a book will inspire the next scientist, or a meal shared with a sibling will prepare the next community leader. We may never see the outcome of our efforts with these kids, and that is exactly why we must be there for them. Summer is for kids…summer builds community…summer inspires dreams…summer is for “all our kids.”
Want to travel back to a simpler time, and maybe see dreams come true? Add a day to your family vacation this summer and serve at a local feeding site near you, with us or another organization. It just might inspire a bright future, and I guarantee it will brighten your day too!