There are those in my family who still don’t “get” what I do and wonder, sometimes audibly, if I will ever get a real job.
They ask, “Why form a non-profit organization. Do you want to be poor all your life?”
I am someone who didn’t plan to work in this profession. When I was in college, studying biology and chemistry, I knew working with kids would someday make me a better Dad, so I took a part-time work-study job in an afterschool program. Then I got hooked and fell in love with the work.
I fell in love with the work because I get paid to play. There are moments when I am teaching science by launching hunks of potato into the air, shooting out smoke vortex rings, or making dry ice soap bubble fountains – that I think to myself, “I must be dreaming, I actually get paid to have this much fun.” It is not always fun and games; it is hard and challenging work, but I love it because it is meaningful.
I love what I do when parents tell me that their kids are learning more in my programs than they are in the classroom.
When they tell me that even if their kids are feeling ill or their teeth hurt from orthodontic work, they won’t tolerate missing school because they don’t want to miss what we have planned afterschool. I love when I hear from kids, parents, teachers, and principals that kids tell them they love afterschool because of our program experiences and program staff.
I fell in love with the other staff who are drawn to this work. I enjoy working with people who are caring, creative, and playful. I love working with people who are passionate about helping children and youth develop positively.
I fell in love with working with school-age kids. I love watching them think and listening to them talk. The stuff they say cracks me up. Comedy is all about surprise. The stuff they say is humor at its best because it comes from their own unique perspective and it comes from the unexpected left field that is childhood.
Perhaps the biggest thing I love is when sometimes…they come back.
We have experienced several dozen former program participants who have come back to our organization seeking employment because they have great memories of their time with us and want to help new kids create new memories. We have others who come back just to thank us for teaching them skills that helped them navigate life as they grew into adulthood.
We recently had a boy named Ronnie who came back. As he talked about his memories he told us that when he was in our program his father was either in prison or incarcerated. He said that the male role models in our program taught him how to be a man. His eyes filled with tears and so he touched his wife on the arm and said, “Tell them honey” so she could finish the story for him. She said, “It’s true. He talks about you people all the time. Thank you for creating my husband.”
This morning, I’m running late, so I’m going to run out the door with a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of iced coffee for a breakfast in the car, enjoying the scenic mountain views on my drive into town.
Author Profile: @mikeashcraft