1. When I began working at SSYO in 2013 I was nervous to meet the students for the first time. We got to Lincoln Elementary and stood outside the building waiting for the bell to signal the end of the school day. As students began exiting the building I was taken aback by the sight. It was crazy hair day at school and the students had pulled out all the stops to participate. Students had hair with braids, flashy colors, glitter, and gel. I was introduced to the students and began to learn their names, but it did me no good. The following day all the students looked completely different because they no longer had their crazy hairdos.
2. Back to school season has always been an exciting time and it’s one of my favorite seasons at SSYO. As a kid I remember the feeling that came with the approaching of fall, back to school commercials on the television, purchasing brand new school supplies, and learning who my teacher would be and which students would be in my class. I’ve loved working at SSYO in September because I get to feel that same excitement myself and see it in the students as we reunite after the summer months. I have fond memories of sitting at our registration booth at Lincoln Elementary School and having students approach with their parents, showing nervous smiles of recognition, and getting to ask each student how their summer was.
3. One year we had a costume party for the students as a reward for good behavior. At that time our after-school program was called ACES, and all the ACES staff members dressed up for the day. I dressed up like Minnie Mouse. I remember walking past a room filled with students reading and seeing Matt Kimmell, dressed as Batman, sitting straight up with a serious expression as he supervised the students reading quietly. It made me laugh out loud to see how he fully embraced his character and how it brought joy to the students.
4. We used to have a fleet of buses at SSYO. At the end of each day, we had a bus route through the neighborhoods in South Town, and we would drop off students at their houses. The evening bus route was one of my favorite times to sit and talk with the students. The bus started out rowdy and loud with all the students onboard, but as they each got dropped off at their houses, it got quieter and quieter, and it was easier to have conversations with the students remaining. Sometimes students would fall asleep in the late evenings of winter, and other times the students would sing songs or play games together until they reached their stop. The bus ride was one of my favorite ways to invest in personal relationships. Eventually I graduated to being the bus driver instead of the bus rider, but I look back with fondness on those times riding home with the students.
6. Play is an integral part of our after-school program. Whether it’s playing outside on the playground, group games, or board games, play is a special way that we build relationships and trust with the students. Over the course of 10 years, the games and activities that are popular amongst the students have changed. My favorite was ‘the year of Pay Day.’ That year we had a lot of rainy days which meant that we were stuck indoors for free time. That same year we also got a donation of board games that included the jackpot of all games: Pay Day. Every day the students would get to the building and ask to play Pay Day. Because I had played Pay Day a lot as a kid, it was nostalgic for me to get to roll the dice and cruise through the calendar year!
7. Legos have been another popular activity to participate in on rainy days. There have been many great creations that students have built over the years, but the most memorable Lego creation for me was a Lego woman whom we named Matilda. She was made with yellow, brown, red and blue blocks. She started out with no face until one day Mr. Andrew drew a face with a permanent marker. After that she became a part of the ACES family. She sat on my desk most days and she would “talk” to the students at snack time. When school ended, Matilda was disassembled and her pieces were put back in the Lego bin. But the memory of her lived on in the students minds and the following winter they found her pieces and put her back together to reminisce about the past.
8. Once the rainy days ceased and the school calendar year was coming to an end, the summer weather was looming on the horizon and, occasionally, we would get a heat wave. When the hot weather hit, we would get to eat popsicles and play with water balloons! The treat of doing water balloon tosses and cooling down with the occasional splash of water and popsicles helped stave off the grumpy attitudes from students who were hot and tired after a long day at school. Eventually the students learned that when it got above 80 degrees there was a good probability for popsicles, so they’d keep an eye on the temperature in expectation of sweet treats and fun times!
9. One of the most exciting end-of-the-year activities that we had was a tea party for the girls at Barb Pearson’s house. On the day of party, all the girls showed up in dresses ready for a fun time. We drove to Barb’s house, and it was a beautiful, sunny day. There were lots of yummy foods to eat, different kinds of tea to try, yard games to play, and crafts to make. The girls all felt fancy and special! While the girls were at the tea party, the boys got to play video games and eat pizza, which they loved. It was such a precious way to end the year.
10. Finally, I have many fond memories of the volunteers who have served over the past 10 years. When I first started at SSYO we served a meal to each of the students. Every meal was prepared and served by men and women who took great delight in their work and who desired to practically care for the needs of the students in our program. We also had an amazing group of men and women from The People of Praise helping, as well as lots of college students helping from the Christian college houses by the OSU Campus to play with, read with, and give homework assistance to the students.
Each of these memories reminds me of the many lives that have been impacted by SSYO. They remind me of the many people who have served and supported our organization and the families that we serve. It reminds me that we are making a difference in lives, big and small. I’m thankful for all these memories and many more, and I look forward to all the memories yet to be made!