During the last week of March, 2016, NCCF hosted a group of college students from University of Missouri for their spring break. Participants spent time at NCCF’s Freedom School, DC General Emergency Family Shelter. Student leader, Matt Bauer blogged throughout the week with NCCF.
Freedom School: Day 1
On Monday 3/28, our Mizzou Alternative Break trip piled into our two minivans with our tiger tails tied to the back latch and headed off to DC General. Mizzou Alternative Breaks is a program at the university that brings together students from all walks of life on campus for a week dedicated to serving various locations across the country. We are staying in a cabin in Middleburg, VA, so our first adventure was the drive into DC. An hour and a half after take off we finally arrived to our service site, DC General. Walking into DC General, we were all a bit nervous. Our first sights in the building were a security check, a metal detector and a 100% ID check sign hanging above the entrance. To quote the officer on duty, “Security is not joke a DC General.” This anxiety quickly dissipated when stepping into the Freedom School’s activity room. The staff was welcoming, the kids were adorable, and it was clear that the next three days were going to be a great experience. Arts and Crafts was the first venture. We all pilied around two large tables and began interacting with kids drawling and doing homework packets. The next activity was circle time. This is where we truly got a taste of what the Freedom School was about. On this day, they had a local rapper come in and sing motivational songs with the kids. Our personal favorite, – “Jump Man.” The songs’ topics ranged from getting good grades to having power. It was great to see all of the kids getting into the songs. During this time, we started to form friendships with all of the kids. These friendships fully developed in the next activity – recess. We walked 4 blocks down the street to a park (with most of the kids clinging to our backs for piggy back rides). By the time we reached the park, it seemed like everyone had found a group of friends to spend the day with. Then the true fun began. Soccer, basketball, duck duck goose, and tag were just a few of the games we played at the park, throwing us all back to our elementary school days. Recess took the remainder of our time at Freedom School for the day. After all the kids had dispersed to their parents, the we came together with the Freedom School staff for reflection. This reflection was a great way to end our first day there. It was filled with funny stories we experienced with kids and questions we had about the program. The reflection was a great experience because it allowed us all to share our personal perspectives on the day. What we found was that while they all differed, one theme was universal: day 1 at the Freedom School was a great start.
Freedom School: Day 2
Positive energy. Those two words sum up Freedom School, especially on day 2. We woke up excited to see the children we bonded with the day before. Upon arriving, we exchanged good mornings with the security guards and walked on upstairs. Today was a special day – FIELD TRIP DAY! ! ! Needless to say, the kids were excited. We were going to Anacostia Park! The Freedom School teachers instructed the kids to get into a buddy system with one other peer and one adult. It made me feel good that two kids quickly clung to me and proclaimed me their buddy for the day. The atmosphere between the Freedom School and my group made it seem like we had been there an entire month, not merely a day. The park was a blast. The Freedom School’s 15-passenger van door swung open and the kids flooded out, eyes toward the pirate ship-themed play ground. My group shortly followed. The day consisted of football, jungle-gyms, laughter, pesky seagulls, sack lunches and pizza. I couldn’t have asked for a better day—well maybe a little less wind. I’ve never seen 12 students so engaged in life. We lived in the moment. I’ve always been told time is the best gift you can give someone, and I think I definitely realized that today. Time spent on the playground was time well spent. I hope the Freedom School scholars adore us a fraction of the amount we do them.
Freedom School: Day 3
I woke up today with a bit of disbelief that it was already Wednesday. Today was the final day at the Freedom School. I think this left my entire group with the attitude to make it count. Walking into the Freedom School, the kids all swarmed us; they were extra hyped up today. We started playing some warm-up activities to work off some of the kids’ energy. I quickly learned that most of the kids could dance better than I could. I attempted anyway. These activities took up much of the morning. After lunch, it was movie time! I won’t lie, I questioned how in the world we would be able to hold the kids attention for an hour and a half with all of their energy. To my surprise, the movie did. During the movie, I looked around the room to find all of the “scholars” latched onto members of my trip. At this moment, I knew the inevitable goodbye would be a hard one. As we watched the movie, two members of my trip had the job of making popcorn, and of course some of the little ones did not hesitate to hop in and help. After the movie and the popcorn were finished, one staff member asked all of the kids to line up against the wall. My group was a little confused by this but we watched anyway. When at the wall, the staff member announced to the children that today would be our last day and asked them to say goodbye to us. This was a tearjerker. The kiddos started to say how much they would miss us all. Even one of the Freedom School’s more difficult kids ran over and gave me a big hug. It’s amazing how much we all had bonded in just three days. Leaving the school, I couldn’t help but be a little down. I wished I could stay longer, I wished I could help more. Mizzou Alternative Breaks has 7 principles they teach us before sending us out on our trips. One of these principles is “poco a poco” or “little by little.” The gist of this principle is we are not going to fix the world in our short week volunteering, but we can make small, meaningful impacts on the communities we serve. Walking out of the Freedom School one final time I pondered about this principle. I hope in the short amount of time we spent with these kids, we made an impact. I know they made an impact on us. We certainly didn’t change their situations or their futures, but I believe we did make them feel important and cherished in the time we spent with them. The Freedom School scholars I came to know over these few days deserve that and so much more. The Freedom School is a fantastic program. Speaking for everyone on my trip, we wish nothing but the brightest futures for all of our new friends. The three days were some that we will remember for years to come. Thanks for a great few days, Scholars.