When I told the girls that I was leaving, they started to open up to me in ways that they hadn't before. And girls who hadn't really said two words to me before I left told me they would miss me or let me know how they felt about my presence. One particularly memorable 18 year old with two children said:
"Ms. Tiasha, did you ever notice you make our birthdays special? Our parents ain't shit."
When I first started at Gwen's Girls, I thought I was going to have deep conversations about sex, and college and grades and respect and love and God, but the girls weren't going. I quickly figured that I needed a gimmick to get through to them. I brought my favorite game, Taboo, and BOOM! They opened up like car doors.
So then it occurred to me. Every respectable adult in their lives is trying to talk to them about the very thing I thought I would try to talk to them about. But VERY FEW adults are talking to them about having, good, clean fun. Just letting them be kids.
My game bag grew out of control: Jenga, Old Maid, Playing Cards, Checkers, Connect Four, Phase 10 and whatever else they asked me to bring. You need them games! I got them games!
Having fun in life is important to me, so I was able to share a little bit of myself just by being playful with the girls.
The second thing I did was create memorable experiences. I took four girls to their first, Pirates, Steelers, Penguins and University of Pitt basketball games, respectively. I gave them all pictures from the games, so they wouldn't forget. The gratitude they had for those experiences was truly overwhelming. Again, just sharing things that I like to do with them exposed them to new things and made an impact.
The third thing I did was celebrate their birthdays. I'm probably going to cry typing this because I cry every time I talk about this. I bought each one of the girls a cake and gift for her birthday. That cake and the gift I brought in EVERY INSTANCE, was the ONLY thing they received for their birthday. It makes me SO ANGRY because if I wasn't there, there is no adult in their life that took the time to make their birthday special. It's just like any other day.
Knowing this also takes me to this very unhealthy place of feeling like it's my responsibility to make their birthdays special. That's not true. I don't have any kids. I'm not obligated or required to do any of this stuff. But what one of MY mentors helped me realized is that by bringing my traditions to them (cake and gifts and celebrating what's clearly the most important day of the year), I modeled excellent behavior. And even though I won't be around on their next birthday, they can make a decision to celebrate themselves with their allowance or they can make a decision when they have a family of their own to make birthdays special. I did exactly what I was supposed to do, which was give of myself fully while I was mentoring.
And finally, what I'm most proud of, is my ability to model unconditional love. Teenagers are usually rewarded for doing something: getting good grades, making the team, winning a game in sports, getting scholarships by having good grades, getting accepted to college, etc. When the odds are against you (poor, teen mom, not good in school, not athletic, etc.), the rewards aren't exactly piling in.
I know as a teenager (and even as an adult, but I'm working on it), I would try to prove my worth by being excellent. And I feel if I make a mistake or don't hit the bar that someone's love or money or care or concern will leave me because I didn't do enough to deserve it. In college, I thought my crush, and later boyfriend wouldn't talk to me if my hair wasn't combed right (I was right. He was a jerk. I digress.)
The point is, I went to the group home, week in and week out, not because these girls are model citizens. A good half of them are clearly juvenile delinquents, even in my presence. I didn't play games with them because they had high IQs or becaus they came from a "good" home or family. I simply loved them because they existed.
That is the kind of love I hope they will seek in relationships from family, friends and lovers and for the time I was with them that's the kind of love I doled out.
So all of that to
As soon as I get my one-on-one mentee, I'll report back with how things are going with her. Fingers crossed that we can work together in 2015.