Adventures in Babysitting
Kids Corp at Reunion Arena
This week has been indescribable, but if you know me, you know I’m gonna try!
I received a call on Friday while I was at lunch with members of the class I am auditing this semester. Shawn asked if I’d be interested in heading up a ministry project at Reunion Arena in Dallas. There are a lot of New Orleans refugees here in Dallas and there wasn’t anything at the makeshift shelter for the children. We had been asked to put together a safe place for children ages 1-10 to hang out from 8am – 9pm.
At 3pm there were 5 of us on site surveying the scene. My description…chaos! There were a few volunteers in a back room with 30 or so kids running in and out, up and down, over and under…
That evening I sat down with my wife Rachel, who is the Assistant Director of a preschool, and made a schedule and basic plan. We called several friends and family members to ask for volunteer help. Jodi and Robert drove in from Abilene. We went to bed around midnight.
7:30am Saturday – We arrive at Reunion Arena to get set up. The room is barely able to safely contain the kids. There are bathrooms which are used by the general population so we can’t keep adults out, which sometimes makes it harder to keep kids in. At this time we haven’t been given any real authority to set up a check-in/out procedure, so we have to let the kids go when they want. Meanwhile I’m getting regular phone calls from volunteers who are at the front gate and need in (the front gate is across the arena and up the beastly stairs!)
10am – We’ve got kids everywhere. We established a minor amount of order and I finally go the okay to regulate coming and going and establish rules and policies.
At noon the problems began. Thanks to red tape I started having a hard time getting my volunteers in the door. There was very little communication between those “in charge” so we’d talk to one person on one trip and then get in trouble for doing the very thing they told us on the next trip. Nobody knew who we were and they didn’t seem to want us there at all. But we pressed on.
By 2pm we were well on our way to something resembling a controlled environment. We didn’t even attempt the schedule but we did start working the kids toward structure. 9pm was very late and we decided we were going to have to do something different.
The day ended on a bit of a sour note. I was informed that we would no longer be able to bring in our own volunteers –we’d have to use Red Cross folks. Of course these would mostly be people who had gone through a very short “boot camp” training – no background check, not necessarily talented in working with kids and not dedicated to just our area. We were told we probably wouldn’t get the 10 people we asked for and the ones we did get may not be able to be there for the exact times of our shifts. I was beginning to feel pretty uncomfortable. Luckily most of the volunteers scheduled for Sunday were ones that had been there on Saturday and had already gotten name tags.
Sunday started off great. We arrived at 7:30 and started getting ready. Of course there were lots of kids already awake and as soon as they saw us go in they started coming! We knew a lot of names so it started of more smoothly. Rachel and I had to leave at 9:30 for a job interview.
I don’t know much about the day while I was gone except that it went pretty well. There was one issue that could have been pretty serious but it was addressed and no real harm was done.
I got back a little after 3 (after a mad dash to Burleson) and things looked to be going pretty well. It was obvious that with each hour that passed, we were getting a little better.
Then Erick came in. Erick is one of the floor managers up on the concourse…where the police and military keep guard and chaos was barely kept in check. He came in to talk about what we were doing. I half expected this to be the end of our little project. Instead he told me that there were lots of people that were very impressed with what we’d accomplished in so short of a time. He said that he liked the idea of us bringing in our own volunteers; people we knew; people who had already been cleared to work with churches and such. He’d talked to the Shelter Manager, Sandra who’d also begun to believe we were an asset rather than a hindrance. Erick asked if I could turn in a list of the next day’s volunteer schedule each evening. If so we would be golden…we’re golden.
The good news was that there was a church on standby to take all day Monday. They’d done trips with Shawn this summer and he felt strongly that they’d do a great job.
At 8pm the world crashed around us. The kids were getting tired and they became uncontrollable. There were more of them than us and they were desperate! We decided that 8 would from then on be our closing time!
Monday morning, 7:30am. This was a great day. Misty and the crew from Pointview stayed all day. They had three crews who each worked 5 hour shifts (I know the math doesn’t add…they overlapped a bit). Misty did a great job of supervising which allowed me to get upstairs to build more rapport with the guards and Red Cross staff – we really needed this in order to avoid regular log jams of red tape. I also worked on getting our area more manageable and safe.
The problem was that since we’d stopped recruiting volunteers, there wasn’t anyone on schedule for Tuesday and Labor Day is not a good day to try to find volunteers. So Shawn worked like crazy all day with no luck for the next day’s volunteers.
8pm came and we shut down for the day. Monday was good.
Tuesday was not so good. At 7:30 Molly and I showed up and were the only ones! Luckily school was starting for a lot of the kids so we didn’t have anyone for nearly an hour. Then when they came it was only 3 or 4 for a while. I started looking around the building for volunteers. Latoya, one of the security guards has really started becoming like one of our staff. She plays with the kids, talks with me about the Cowboys (she’s a big fan), and helps maintain order. Molly had to leave at noon and I guess her karma went with her because about 20 minutes later we had 12 kids and only three adults. 1-4 ratio may not sound to bad, but with this setting and these kids we were way outnumbered.
Even though I found a few more volunteers, things only got worse. The adults didn’t know each other and most of them weren’t really sold on the idea of being there. Needless to say I spent a lot of time chasing runaways and going up and down those evil evil evil stairs!
At 5:30 we had 25 kids and a few ragged adults so I pulled the plug for the day. It took 2 hours to actually close and so I ended up leaving just a few minutes early. I now appreciate even more the power of team of people who are excited about serving God by loving, protecting and watching these kids.
After working around 55 hours Saturday-Tuesday it was really nice to have the early morning session off today. I’m going to head up there in just a little while, but I’m actually looking forward to it. Overall, I have really enjoyed this experiment.
I’ve had the opportunity to do some hands on service to folks who are in need, but I’ve also had the chance to “play chess”. The reason I like being a director of camps, retreats and things like Kids Corp is that it is so much like playing chess. My job isn’t just to take the king. I am able to see the whole game board and my goal is to make sure that the right pieces are in the right places at the right times in order to take the king. I have to anticipate obstacles and either avoid them or prepare to handle them quickly. For instance, yesterday Sandra told us there were some Playstations that would be brought in for the teenagers and they needed to put them in our room. This would have been terrible! I love working with teenagers, but they did not need to be in this little room with toddlers! So I convinced Sandra to at least look for another room to put the Playstations. Rather than waiting for her to say she couldn’t find anything, I went scouting and found the perfect place. The outcome: not only do we not have to deal with 1 year-olds and 18 year-olds sharing the same room, but the Red Cross staff was really grateful for our help in finding such a great place for the teens.
I love looking at the big picture and this has allowed me to do just that.
The reason I’ve written all this, outside of sharing the experience with friends, is that I’d like to come back to this experience in a few days. I’ve learned some important spiritual formation lessons that I’d like to reflect on and so it will be helpful for you to have read this.
I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to write again…hopefully soon.