Step into my day...
6:42 am: Coco and her bus come bustling down Clinton Ave 3 minutes early. We are speed-walking down our street but she sees us and will wait. The first time she saw us, she didn’t even try to hide her shock at our obvious displacement in theis neighborhood. Regardless, she made some jokes, called out to everyone else on the bus and laughed, welcoming us on and
promising she’d find us hood cards. The at-first wary glances changed to morning nods, as each of us slowly washed the sleep away from our eyes. “See you tomorrow, Charlie’s Angels,” another passenger laughs as we step off the bus at Clinton Ave and Thomas. Community.
7:17 am: The doors at Link open. Fifth and sixth graders flood in, checking-in. I smile big, calling out to one of my favorite and most difficult fifth graders hoping that today isn’t an angry day. Another little lady runs up for our morning hug, as she does a turn so I can make sure her hair has just enough poof to take on the day. The brother duo strut in again challenging me to a push-up competition. This morning routine is a time of uniform and homework checks, and more importantly a time to look each student in the eye and acknowledge that I’m there with them. I believe that today is a good day. And I believe in you. This is my favorite time of day. Welcome.
8:43 am: My knitting elective. What was first a laugh by many became a line of middle schoolers asking for their own needles and yarn. Some take to it quick, others a bit slower, and one of my most committed knitters learns again and again each week after he forgets. Scarves always seem to grow more in width than in length. It is both a social exercise and one of somber self-care. It is our time to problem solve, be with one another, and to finally understand what all our grandmothers keep talking about. Repeat. Try again.
11:32 am: Indoor recess. My most dreaded time of day. Violence last summer leaves the fifth and sixth graders stuck in their basement classroom to “play.” as I am forced to yell in order to have some control. I hate this role. These kids deserve the outdoors, to run and release energy. without my orders to not run, break, or hurt anything or anyone around them. No wonder behavior issues intensify down here. Let the kids be kids. Quiet voices should not be synonymous with recess. Frustration.
3:03 pm: Seventh Grade Life Science. “You’re my first best friend that is a girl, Ms. Kendall.,” I the most pain in my butt but favorite 7 th grade boy says as he grabs onto my arm. I walk around the room, reminding kids to sit up, being proven wrong as I try to remember cell structure, and trying to make disapproving eye contact with another student as she bops around in her chair distracting another. She giggles, then I giggle… I haven’t quite gotten the look down. Advocate.
4:30 pm: Out the door and off to the gym. The necessary self-care I need to survive this yearo, and to continue each day with energy to take on 288 middle schoolers and a community of six strangers that have become my family. I run, zone out, music filling my head, and several prayers that I don’t fall off the treadmill. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let go. Start over.
6:02 pm: Waiting for the bus at Broad St. and Lombardy. Already thinking about getting in my PJs and going to sleep, exhausted. I get on the bus. Newark passes by, buildings embodying the struggle and failure that has held this city in its tight embrace. Some faces reflect the same; others look upward, embracing a different shift emboldening the city with hope. Murals. Art. Community. This place is changing. Believe in Newark.
6:38 pm: Home. A place of safety, intention, and saying yes. Six strangers in August quickly becoming a dysfunctional family come July. With different stories, histories, habits, and expectations we try our best to be kind to one another as our story crosses during this year. Sunday Business Meetings, open communication. Who is annoying who this week? Shared meals, most likely vegetable and bean stir-fry. God help me, when did we become vegetarians and dairy free? Dishwashing dance parties. Support each other, believe in one another, hold them close—they are your family this year.
10:00 pm: Laying in bed. Reflecting on the day. We begin the day and end the day alone. I breathe in and out, releasing energy to then be filled again come tomorrow. I chose this. I committed to this. I am frustrated and drained by this world. But hope remains, buried so deep and unwilling to give up.
I am filled with joy, laughter, and light by those around me. Little faces, stealing my heart. Some whom have already been forgotten by those that matter most, embolden me to care. To be kind. To offer my joy and an open heart to say that you matter. You are valuable. You are strong and you are brave. You have what it takes.
11:01 am, May: It’s been nine months in JVC. I’ve been silent for 16 hours, 46 more to go during this silent retreat. I hear birds singing through my opened windows, cars passing by, the wind blowing, pipes tinkling. I am grateful for this time. I am grateful for this year. I witness generosity, kindness, hardship, and
sadness each day. I do my best to be fully present. I fail. I am selfish and unkind. I try again. I say yes each morning, trying to utter positivity as I roll out of bed too early. I explore. I fall. I am lifted up. My future presents itself in a blur. What is coming? Who will my world be filled with? What land will my feet touch? Passing.
I am humbled by this opportunity to be a Jesuit Volunteer. I am grateful for the support that I receive. I exude love towards those around me far and wide. I am proud of the person I am becoming. I look forward with fear and excitement towards what is next, whatever it may be.