Fighting Poverty with Passion
From the get-go things have been reaching new heights at APEX Youth Center. (Do you see what I did there, reader? Apex? New heights? I’m so punny. Teehee :D)
The past month at APEX has been a cycle of dreams and nightmares. Each day brings with it a new situation that mimics the lottery: you never know what number is going to be pulled out of the container. Imagine a new situation pulled out of the container every fifteen minutes from 3:30 to 7:00 PM Tuesday through Friday and 1:00 to 5:00 PM on Saturday, and you have my work at APEX. Some days at work, it is the most wonderful thing I know on this good Earth. Other days I cannot wait to reach a place of calm and peace within myself or within my environment because the craziness of the day and the riled-up, bad attitudes of my kids that day are just too much to handle.
I have never been tested so thoroughly – as a human being, as a friend, and as an adult. Within my first two weeks of being a VISTA, I cried more tears than I expected. I hit a road block within myself. I began to interrogate my character. Was I really a shining role model that I believed myself to be? Was I someone who had a grip on what I represented and what I stood for? If I always jumped to wanting to tell a child to “Stop! Listen to me! Listen to me!” repeatedly, was I really doing a good job of mentoring?
I was playing parent, friend, mentor, and supervisor all in one day. Some of my kids would come through with anger resting upon their shoulders. Others would come in looking to release energy after a structured day of school. One kid would sneak away from his grandmother’s tasks just to come by APEX and play Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I saw it all, yet in these kids I did not see myself. This bothered me. I am proud of my ability to empathize, or at least, I thought I had a good enough sense of empathy to take pride in it. I was lost in the momentum, constant motion, of how the center ran its day-to-day operations, and in turn I lost myself. I needed an emergency plan for my own mental well-being and for the sake of my relationships with my kids, but my emergency plan could not include escaping the building and cowering away in a hidden corner or a neutral ground.
It took introspection to get me through my first two weeks. With the VISTA family at my side, my self-inflicted fears and worries began to melt away. I had found my niche, and a sense of freedom followed that sense of belonging. Even though I had experience with APEX Youth Center before as a volunteer, it took two weeks and a constant presence before my kids began to warm up to me. I was not a fleeting presence in their life. I was at APEX whether they liked it or not so they might as well obey my warnings, rules, and guidance. I can still hear Mr. D‘s voice, the husband of my supervisor, echoing to the kids: “She works here now so she’s not going anywhere. So you might as well get used to her and what she has to say.” As critical and criticizing as these words resonated at the time, they brought with them peace in the workplace. I am so grateful to have such welcoming and supportive staff at APEX Youth Center.
Many of my APEX youth members have been in similar situations. On August 28, 2014 we were given the opportunity to take a bunch of APEX kids to a Saints game, but not just any Saints game. APEX had special treatment as we were going into the Superdome suite style. Sixteen of us – volunteers, APEX youth members, and staff alike – in one suite enjoying the food and the wonderful view.
Before the festivities really began and the game took off, our founder, Lisa Fitzpatrick, pulled me aside. She took me out in the hallway and asked me if I knew why APEX brings kids to events like the Saints game, why we pay to have the food delivered to our suite and splurge like this. I gave her a shaking of my head indicating “no,” and she began to explain. While I cannot quote her directly and lack the memory capacity to do so, the main message that I was to be reminded of went something like this:
“We hold these events so that our kids can see how they should be treated everyday – with respect.”
Our kids needed to know what it should be like for them everyday, people respecting them and being kind to them. They needed to see what respect was when it doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun.
Lisa then began to explain more of the background of the children in the suite, without pointing any child out in particular or listing names. All had been affected by gun violence. All had been through some traumatic incident. Some even heard the gun shots themselves. These kids did not have any emergency plans; they had to be present and witness their emergencies. Still, somehow, these kids are more resilient than I was in my first two weeks of working at APEX, and you can still see it on their faces.
The excitement and wonder continues as the gratitude grows. Until next time!