Challenge Day." It is a day of activities designed to build a sense of community among a group of students. Volunteers were invited to participate as adult facilitators, leading group discussions and ice-breaking games. This was my first year volunteering, and what a day it turned out to be!
The day began with everyone seeming a little nervous. These days are known to be emotionally charged events where the tissues end up vastly outnumbering the people. As the day progressed, though, you could feel the tension ease up in the room and everyone started getting a lot more comfortable with the process.
As a volunteer, I was given four students to form a family group. I can't say enough about how lucky I was to get the four young people assigned to me. They were open, honest, and ready with hugs whenever either a fellow student or I needed one. During "If You Really Knew Me," we all shed tears as we listened to our family members share painful details about their hardships and struggles. It was such a wonderful chance to bond with people who, only hours before, had been complete strangers. I was not only heartbroken to hear what these four teenagers had been through, but inspired by their sense of determination and perseverance. I don't know that I could have survived much of what they were going through.
The most moving part of the day came with the exercise called "Cross the Line," which you may have seen in the movie "Freedom Writers." Everyone was asked to stand on a line and then cross to the opposite line when something applied to their life. For instance, we were asked to cross the line if we were a child of divorce, or if we had a friend or loved one killed by violence, etc. What I found most revealing was how much I actually had in common with many of the kids. Having grown up with two parents in a military family, I never thought I would have much in common with a group of predominantly inner-city kids; but there I was crossing the line time after time.
Of course like the others in the room, it was sometimes difficult to face the realities of what it meant to cross the line. But there was truly a feeling that we were all in this together. After crossing the line we would put our arms around a young person that had done the same, letting them know that they are not alone in their struggles. Afterward, when we met back in our small family groups to discuss the exercise, one of my kids said he felt so much better when he would look down the line and see some of his friends were there too. He never realized that he had a group of people who could understand what he was going through and be there for him. What a powerful moment...knowing you are in fact not ALONE.
I really cannot say enough about the impact that the day had on me, and the impact I hope it had on the kids that participated. If CMSD is able to bring Challenge Days back next year, I would encourage everyone to take a day off from work and become a volunteer. I can guarantee it will be an eye-opening experience that you will never forget. And more importantly, it will show our youth that they are truly not alone.