After an early start this morning, I watched as our teens pushed past the exhaustion and cold weather to reach out to and engage with children who attended Without Walls’ “Happy Birthday Jesus” Christmas party. Whether it was tossing a football, helping children out of a deflating balloon house, or picking up trash; our teens were always “on” and ready to give the kids a Christmas to remember. I watched as our teens thought up and initiated activities with children regardless of their age, ability or gender. It was inspiring to watch them bring smiles and warmth to these children’s day. And it wasn’t just the children and their families that AWB participants touched, but volunteers and leaders of the event were also touched by the commitment of our teens to help others. They were thankful for the extra hands, the young faces and the high energy spirit that our teens brought to the different stations at the event.
As a current staff member and a past participant of AWB, I am inspired to have the opportunity to hear about how our teens choose to engage with and act upon the issues of racism and social injustices. It is exciting for me to hear how the conversations between AWB participants are similar to the conversations I participated in while in New Orleans. During my group’s sikkum yom (reflection discussion of the day), I felt a sense of pride hearing my group speak passionately and eloquently about moments during the day when they struggled with and/or felt uncomfortable by racially charged comments and actions made by other volunteers, and when they helped bring smiles and happiness to a child and their family. Listening to them speak about the moments that stuck out to them reminded me of moments when I was a participant sitting with my group reflecting on the day. I recall fond memories of bonding with my peers and diving into deep discussions surrounding race, injustices, and education. The opportunity to listen to AWB participants discussions tonight, and for the rest of week makes me feel refreshed, energized and ready to see what this week has to offer.
~ Stephanie Blitzer: recent graduate, American University – New Jersey