Monday, September 28, 2009
It Takes a Village
Though it seems like a distant memory because of the sudden cold front that hit Minnesota this morning, I was able to soak up every minute of Saturday's gloriously perfect weather! Nine year old Dinomight participant Edward and his five year old brother Moises joined my cousin and I for a fun day at the Minnesota Zoo. The kids loved seeing the flamingos, tigers, monkeys, bears, and sea otters, but their unanimous favorites were the prairie dogs. It was so much fun to hang out and enjoy what felt like an extension of summer. At one point as we were walking around the zoo Edward was talking about how much fun he was having and he turned to me and asked:
"Why do all the coaches love us?"
He seemed genuinely curious. I think I responded with something along the lines of how all the kids were so awesome that we can't help but love them, but his comment really struck me. Sometimes working with youth can be discouraging. You are often faced with a student who is living through really rough circumstances and when solutions to their problems don't come quickly, it's easy to wonder if you are doing enough. I think Edward's question really hit the core of DinoMights' greatest success: Something we are doing is making the kids feel loved.
I would really like to emphasize the word "We" in that statement. I have been tutoring Edward for the last couple of years, but he didn't ask why "I" loved him so much. He didn't ask why Rich, Leah, Scott, Eric, or the other Leah loved him so much. He referred to us as a community of people who care about him and his teammates. The community of caring adults that DinoMights provides for its students is so incredibly valuable. A popular ratio among youth workers used to be 1-7. If you--as one mentor--had seven students in your life that you were investing time into, you were a successful youth worker. However, the Search Institute did some studies recently and decided that the ratio needs to be flipped. To make the greatest impact, the real ratio should be 7 caring adults for every 1 student. I have gotten very close to Edward over the last few years and am excited that I get to continue being a part of his life, but I also recognize that he may face things that I am unequipped to respond to. For example, there will inevitably be times when he will need a male to turn to rather than a female. Being a part of a community means that I don't have to feel like I am investing into any particular kid by myself. I am a part of a team of people with different skills, talents, backgrounds, cultures, professions and personalities, who share the same goal of loving these kids and helping them to succeed. I felt that sense of community growing up in the program and those relationships with caring adults are still very important to me today. DinoMights provides that 7-1 ratio for kids. The kids can feel the love and are learning at an early age that they are valued. That says a lot.