It is Martin Luther King Day. When I wake early, I am feeling anxious. I have volunteered to help my daughter Kristin with her MLK event at the Fishtown Recreation Center. Although I have been to Fishtown on lots of occasions, I have never actually been to the Rec. Center nor volunteered to work an event. I had been working for so many years as a school counselor. But now, I was retired and my part-time job allowed me more time. Sure, I was an active volunteer my whole life, but this was different. For one, I was working outside in a new place with kids again. Had I forgotten how it was to counsel and teach kids? Would I be able to relate to this newer generation? Did I have the stamina to work with volunteers and interns? Besides, I was working with my talented artistic daughter. After all, although I love art and have volunteered for years in the art world, I am not an artist. I wish that I were, and I loved art as a young person, but being surrounded by artists, I wondered if I could help or whether I would be in the way. Artists seem to naturally hold originality and creativity in their hands and minds.
So there I was on a very cold, wintry day wearing as many layers as possible in this new place, trying on the idea of being creative and working both outside and in, with young people. We were charged with cleaning up, raking, and repairing the endless murals that decorate and enliven the Rec. Center. In addition, we were to make Valentines for shut-ins and for soldiers and sailors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The number of young people was large enough with interns and adult volunteers and parents, but the task was challenging. Immediately, everyone picked up rakes and bags, found the paints and brushes while Kristin directed and taught everyone how to paint, where to paint, and how to work in a way that kept things as neat and organized as possible. I was very impressed by her clarity, patience, and understanding. She is such a wonderful teacher that everyone, including me, felt confident that we could pitch in. The volunteers rose to the occasion, and before long, they set out to make the park area clean again. There wasn’t just litter, but glass and leaves, etc. After all, this is the inner city and the neighborhood was still struggling. Where gangs still exist, the Fishtown Rec. Center is a place where both kids and adults can learn, meet, and enjoy. Activities for kids made this a special haven in the neighborhood. And like so many city neighborhoods, there are the kids and parents who call each place home.
I marveled at the kids and adults who worked so hard. There were two wonderful parents, plunging in. There was a flurry of activity everywhere. Soon graffiti was disappearing, and the repainting was covering all the scratches and marks. As I raked, I talked to a couple who had traveled from Washington on their day off to help. As I raked, I found a worker who helped me put my pile in a bag.
Kristin charged me with helping the kids make Valentine’s Day cards. It was a good job because it was inside, and the day was so very cold. Soon I was joined by others who needed a break from the outside chores. I met a youngish woman from the community who was with her niece. Sue explained that she was babysitting that day. We went to work immediately on making valentines. The little girl who was 6 and her aunt explored all the materials, which Kristin had organized and collected. We had to put out the materials which were many on the table. With her interns, we had already made sure that we gave out MLK tee shirts to all the volunteers and helped them sign in. As our crowd grew, what a joy it was to listen and to talk with so many wonderful students. How impressive it was to watch kids share and create. In fact, I found in myself the old joy of making my Valentines from this and that, knowing that mine were my creations. After all, the spirit was moving all of us to find the artist within us. And we were having so much fun!
For me, there was so much joy on this day. After all, I was rediscovering the joy of working with young people. In an age of continual bad news in the media, of think tanks talking about this age of selfishness and narcissism, of a perceived feeling that no one cares, there was an entirely different story. There was the joy of the aunt and her little niece, Sue’s gratitude for having the recreation center in the neighborhood and for its work. There were these terrific kids working and sharing. There were parents who spent their day laboring, driving, and enjoying their own kids and their kid’s friends. Of course, it was wonderful to share in Kristin’s work at Art Sphere Inc. and to know that she is doing such good work.
I found that there is still an artist in me. I was confirmed in my belief that each of us can make a difference. I discovered again that when we give, we receive so much more.
So as the day ended, all the tiredness and cold could not erase that good feeling, and I knew that I would be found at each event that I could attend. I hope that I can meet you there or that you will join Art Sphere Inc. in its mission to build community through art.