I like to volunteer. I get so much more out of it then I put in. So tonight I did my usual, reading books to kids at a homeless shelter. It is a neat shelter. It is one that provides a small number of families a place to live, food, and training. Families that are accepted into this shelter have to adhere to certain rules and they are normally there for several months until they can get back on their feet.
It is such an amazing thing. You don’t realize but there are so many kids who don’t have books read to them. I take for granted the normal bedtime routine I have with my cousins: pajamas, two books, a hug and a kiss. Many kids don’t have this..don’t even know what this is.
Now let me get to the reason for this blog. So, I am talking to these two amazing boys. They are 7 and 9, and still can’t really read. They had asked me a question and I responded by saying, “ I couldn’t because I was at work all day.” In which the older boy responds, “You work?” “Yep, I got to pay the bills somehow.” Then he asks me if I work everyday. I was a bit taken back by this whole conversation. Then I realize, he comes from a world were not everyone has a job, and if they do, it may not be a steady job. It was something that had never occurred to me.
It was then pretty funny when he asked me what did I do for work. Have you ever tried to explain to a kid what a lobbyist is? It isn’t easy. So I started where I normally do…”Do you know what Congress is and what a Senator is.” That was a resounding No. So I went with the standard, “I work with people who make the laws and rules for the United States and I try to make sure they make good laws and take care of people.” Well with that the younger one says, “Well they ain’t doing nuttin for me! But the United States are fighting bad guys.” I thought it was funny this 7 years old view. He must of heard it somewhere.
These kids are so amazing, they just need a little support and a steady influence in their life. It kills me to think about what a disadvantage these two boys are at before their even 10…living in a shelter and not able to read. We had two other kids, a brother sister pair (probably 11 and 9) who had been in the shelter for about 2 months. They were so smart and excellent readers. But they weren’t in school. The sister really missed school and was looking forward to going back. She just needed to get re-enrolled. She was bored. And again, you start to worry about the disadvantage of these children moving around and never having a consistent education.
Do you know some kids start Kindergarten and have never seen a book, never been read a book, and never seen someone reading a book. The disadvantages for those kids are huge. We fundamentally guarantee kids a free education, but there is no way we can guarantee everyone has an equal shot at learning. And when you think about children that are homeless, how can they have books? When you have no home, you have no way to carry books around. When they are trying to survive where does the learning come in?
It is such a small thing, and I enjoy it more than you can imagine. I also hope that I can provide some sort of spark in these kids regarding reading and make provide them with a fun evening. If you get a chance, check out the Read Aloud program in your area. Ours is done in homeless shelters (we have quiet a few in the nations capital), but many are done in the school systems.