I wince as the worn Nerf football thuds against the ceiling inches from a florescent light, and I shout a warning to the kid who threw it to move the game somewhere safer. But I can’t find it in my heart to be angry with him, and as I turn to his mom, she is smiling.
There were days when I wondered if I would ever see that student playing so easily with other kids. He had struggled with just about every aspect of social interaction in the first months of the school year. He wanted to be friends with the other students, but the transition into the new school year was hard for him, and his erratic behavior did more to push others away than to encourage them to be his friend. It was a hard thing to watch. But we have helped and guided him, and now he is playing with the other students as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
It is tempting, sometimes, to measure success in numbers —the bigger the numbers, the greater the success. By that standard, the fourteen students I moved from Ohio to northern Maine to mentor and invest in as part of our afterschool program represent only marginal success. But numbers cannot tell the full story of what we do, or begin to describe how wonderful it is to see a child begin to make friends for the first time, or convey how sobering the fact is that sometimes the safest and steadiest hours in a child’s week are the hours they spend with us. The responsibilities that come with this position are enormous, but in the moments when I see a lonely student smile because they have made a friend, they are all worth it.
Sonia Noble is an AmeriCorps State member serving at KidCare America in Lincoln, ME under the Community Resource Corps, which is a division of Goodwill Industries of Northern New England and funded by the Maine Commission for Community Service.