#SELChat: How Consistency Creates Positive Childhood Experiences
She was eight years old, maybe even seven, when we first met at Kids Club in her neighborhood. Kids Club was an outreach to the public housing community affectionately named JoJo. There were hundreds of kids living in the neighborhood. Once they knew that we had something fun for them to do on Saturday mornings, plus lunch, they came out in droves. Sometimes the older kids, ages nine and 10, would bring along their younger siblings or cousins, toting them on their hips the same way their mothers would do.
Saturday mornings grew to summer day camps and fall retreats. We also had a Christmas dinner for all ages. Bringing together diverse skin tones and socioeconomic backgrounds, we were becoming a family.
I got to know this little girl, her mama, her grandmama, and her sisters. She was the youngest, and sometimes she asked if she could come stay at my house with my family to get a break from the noise and violence surrounding her. We'd drive to the suburbs, and she was amazed by everything…the quiet, the houses, the church. Everything was new and different.
Fast forward 22 years, and this little girl is a grown woman with children of her own. They all call me Godmama. Now it's her three kids who come to stay the weekend with my family. Her oldest boy, who is six, gets that same sad look on his face that his mama used to when he knows it's time to go back to his own neighborhood, not far from one of the largest public housing communities in Nashville.
After we hug goodbye, I wonder, “How does this help them? Am I making a difference?”
Then I turn to the research on Positive Childhood Experiences conducted by Christina Bethell and her colleagues. I am #6: a "non-parent adult who genuinely cares." As such, I talk with them about their feelings, provide support during difficult times, and ensure their safety at all times when they are with me.
My godchildren, ages three, five and six, were here this weekend. We went to get our own library cards, watched a Disney movie, went to church, played at the playground, and ate popsicles. Watching them out the window as the car pulled away, I prayed for them even as my own heart ached. The truth is that I would like to scoop them up in my arms and protect them from the trauma they face each day. However, I know that just like my own children who are now 22, 17, and 14, I cannot keep these little ones from experiencing pain and disappointment. But what I can do is be here consistently and speak this truth to them: You are resilient!
What I've learned over the years is that we are helping each other, for we all need to give and receive love.
Thoughts to consider:
1. Get involved – Whether it's with your church or a community group, find a way to serve.
2. Build relationships – Get to know the children and their families. Remember it takes time to build trust.
3. Commit to the long haul – People are tired of the revolving door of volunteers in and out. Be consistent.
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