Welcome back to New Jersey....
Trip Start Aug 07, 2009
74Trip End Dec 31, 2009
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Our school was a combined elementary/middle school in the Jersey Shore town of Monmouth Beach. I gotta tell you, New Jersey isn't so bad when you're on the Shore. It's actually quite nice--especially this little town. There were some beautiful houses in nice neighborhoods, and the beach was a pleasant meeting of fine sand and little pebbles.
It was a very sunny day, although cold, and helped to reinstate a little enjoyment about being in New Jersey.
As far as work was concerned, it went well. We had to set up in the cafetorium while two or three rounds of kids came through for their lunch periods. We were able to keep the little bugers away from our equipment (for the most part), and soon enough we were ready to go. We even had a little lunch break in the middle of our set up while we waited for the custodians to clean the floor.
The show ran without a hitch, and afterward, the principal asked us to say a few concluding words and take questions. We hadn't done an introduction, and the principal singalled me to the front while the kids silently waited at the end of the video, so it was an awkward transition into my impromptu conclusion. So, I put on my happy public face (despite being tired and slightly put on the spot) and introduced myself and closed with some video-related thoughts. I kept feeling the need to say "Again, my name's Mike, that's Kelsey, and we'd love it if you want to come chat with us on your way out and let us know what you thought of the video." So I did, and then opened the floor for questions. One boy asked a question about our job, and he was quickly shut down by the principal for not asking about the material. Awkward. I honored his question with a short response and transitioned back into the material and offered to answer any more questions. "Yes?" "Oh, no, just stretching." And that was the last hand that went up. So, before I stepped aside, I again made sure they knew we were available afterward to talk. Then I left.
They were dismissed shortly after that, and it didn't take long for one boy to come up to us. For sake of privacy, we'll call him Ryan. "Hi. A bunch of kids in my class make fun of me and call me names like fat ___ and stuff. And they don't stop."
"Wow, that's a really hard thing, huh? What's your name?"
"Nice to meet you Ryan. I'm Kelsey" Kelsey introduced herself, and I followed. Just then, another boy came up to me with a question, and I diverted my attention to him as Kelsey carried on her conversation.
"Hi. Do you have a list of the songs in that video?"
I thought so, and I was about to go out to the van to get it, when I realized that I didn't think we had any for this show (since we showed them last year's video). So I apologetically corrected myself. "Sorry." (come to find out, we did indeed have them. Oops. But there was a more important issue at hand.) I tuned back into the conversation with Ryan.
"And they say mean things about my mom, too. I just can't take it anymore."
Okay, now, in case you didn't know, that's always a red flag thing to say. We needed to give this kid some positive things to think about, and fast.
"Ryan! Let's get going!" A teacher called after him as his class was leaving. Without saying another word, Ryan turned and followed.
"Ryan!" Kelsey called after him, but he was already lost in the crowd of kids returning to class.
Kelsey and I were left there in the empty cafetorium, reeling from what we just heard, and feeling helpless to do anything about it. We absolutely could not, in good conscience, leave that school and that kid without talking to him again. But school was twenty minutes away from letting out, and he was in class.
I had an idea. "I'll write a letter. God isn't done with our encounter with him yet. If we write it, God can make sure he gets it."
We knew that we were given an opportunity to be an encouragement. We would be remiss--no, failures--if we did not make the best of it.
I ran out to the car to get some paper and an envelope, and for the next fifteen minutes I hastily scratched out a letter of encouragement. I was praying that God would have me write what this kid needed to hear. Hopefully, this would be even better than a verbal conversation with him, because spoken words can be forgotten and faded over time. But a letter could be referenced again and again, and hopefully provide multiple doses of encouragement during darker times.
The letter was completed and sealed in an envelope with the only information we knew about him--his name. That might be enough. I went to the front office and asked if there was any way that I could get a letter to one of the students. The lady told me that she would need his first and last name--first name wasn't enough. I tried to describe him. In the middle of my desciption, another woman, waiting in a chair by the door, chimed in. "Was he wearing a blue shirt with white sleeves?"
"Uh.. yes, actually, I think he was."
"Ah yes, that's Ryan ______"
The office lady acknowledged her, "Oh of course, that's his mother."
What luck! But are we all talking about the same Ryan? I wasn't sure...
The office lady continued, "Why don't I take the letter and make sure it's him. I don't want to give it to the wrong Ryan."
"Okay, great. Thanks. He came up and talked to us after the assembly, and I just wanted to follow up on the conversation. He won't be expecting it, but he'll know us."
"We'll make sure he gets it."
Whew! I was confident that it would eventually get to him, but I still prayed.
Kelsey and I continued with tearing down our equipment. While we were behind our screens, a flash of a young boy ran across the room, picked up a forgotten item, and ran out.
Kelsey exclaimed, "That was Ryan!" "RYAN!"
But he was already gone. "That was him? Dangit! The one minute that we wer stuck behind our screens!"
Maybe I could still catch him. I told Kelsey I was going to try to catch him before he left, and then I started running out the door.
I caught a glimpse of him leaving the front entrance, and I dodged a few students clogging the hallway.
When I arrived outside, I looked out and saw Ryan and his mom out in the parking lot.
He turned around. Yes! His mom also turned around, and shouted back. "We got the letter!"
I figured there was no need to shout anymore, so we met in the middle.
"What letter?" Ryan asked, as his mom pulled it out of her purse. "I've got it." She said.
"We didn't get to talk for very long after the assembly today, so I wrote you a letter that you can read when you have the chance."
His mom joined in, "What was the assembly about--bullying and stuff like that?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"There's a lot of that going on here."
"Yeah... so Ryan, read that letter sometime soon, okay?"
"Okay, cool. Thanks."
Ryan and I bumped fists, and I bid farewell to him and his mom. "Take care."
What a blessing it was to have closure on the situation. We could now be positive that that letter would reach its intended heart.
And we felt such fulfillment in being good stewards of that opportunity. That's what this job is all about! Even if it's just impacting one sole student in that room... it's worth it.