by Megan Brooks, Director of TVN
Over the last month, we have been really working with the kids on kindness, standing up for each other and not gossiping. I hate to say it, but mostly the girls! We have had instances of cliques, exclusion, she-said he said, and overall just drama. Two weeks ago, the dramas escalated, and, unfortunately, ended up in the decision to suspend Kimberly. (I know, I know, this story doesn’t sound positive yet, but it is! I promise! Hang in there!)
As I spoke with Kimberly and her mom, my heart was breaking for a little girl who I KNEW had this awesome heart - a little girl who I had just watched perform in her first musical, a girl who loves to help the little kids with reading. A girl who, also, has been allowed (either at school or at home-who knows!) to have her way most of the time, and who is a leader amongst the other kids, for better or worse. As I spoke with Kimberly and her mom, Miguelina, Kimberly opened up about some anger problems, and how it has been hard for her to have self-control when her feelings are hurt, or she is feeling insecure. It was such a mature conversation that I almost revoked the suspension! However, we needed to set an example that any level of bullying will not be tolerated at all at TVN.
I was able to speak into her life that she was created to do hard things. To have hard conversations, to take the high road and to promote reconciliation with other kids. I told her that I was proud of her in our conversation, but that her actions still had consequences. We said goodbye for the week.
When Kimberly came back this week, her attitude was bad. She wouldn’t look at me, or talk to anyone. Finally, I pulled her aside and asked “What’s up with the attitude? We were so excited to have you back!” She looked like she was about to cry. She said to me “Miss Megan, I don’t want to be here. I feel like I don’t belong anymore.” (Shot to the heart. That is my worst fear for any kid! I want this to be a safe place, full of love and good feelings and inclusion!!) I grabbed her hand. I said, “Baby girl, we all missed you so much. You know that I love you. You know that these volunteers adore you. You know that you have so many friends here, but I can’t make you believe that. You have to choose to believe it for yourself, because anything else that’s in that head of yours is a lie. You are loved here. You belong here.” There was a small shift in her expression, but still no eye contact. “But what if the kids are mad at me….”
Ahhhhh. Honesty. I LOVE when kids are mature and honest about their fears in conversations - that’s when I can actually help! I thanked her for being honest with me about her fears. I told her that it was true that there were probably some kids with hurt feelings, and there may even be kids who were still holding onto some anger towards her from what had happened the week before. But, I explained to her that because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, she had an amazing opportunity for reconciliation, that she could ask for forgiveness, and that the kids here were still her friends - they just needed to know that she loves them, and was sorry for being unkind. I told her that there might be some broken trust right now, but Jesus can heal that. She said to me, “But what if they don’t forgive me?”
Isn’t that a fear for all of us? Don’t we all fear broken relationships? I explained to her that the Bible doesn’t just ask us to forgive, it REQUIRES us to forgive. I told her that having Jesus in our hearts means that we forgive. Always. It’s so important. I asked her if she would like for me sit with her while she had these brave and hard conversations. She was very relieved, and said yes. So we called the kids whose feelings she had hurt in, one by one, and Kimberly bravely and honestly apologized and asked for forgiveness. As she did, every single child graciously hugged her and said “I forgive you”, “We can still be friends!” “It’s okay!” Tears on tears.
One of the little girls who had been involved was not there on the Monday that Kimberly and I had these conversations, and missed a few days this week. Yesterday, she was here. Kimberly (on her own!) came up to me and said, “Miss Megan, Briza is here today. Do you think we could go to a quiet room so that I can ask for her forgiveness?”
OH MY PROUD HEART. These are the moments I live for! These are the moments that make the discipline, and the tough love, and the hard days so, so worth it. I have been so proud of our girls lately. After a few conversations, some teaching, and an assembly, I am seeing them step up. They stand up for each other, call each other out for unkindness, and apologize when necessary. They are the kingdom, and it is such a privilege to get to help them grow.
by Megan Brooks, Director of TVN
This month’s focused story is a beautiful moment where I got to see one of our older kids step up as a leader. One of my favorite things to watch is our kids learning and growing, and then teaching and guiding the younger kids. I see this ALL THE TIME. But last Friday was a special instance!
For the last few weeks, we have been doing “The Amazing Race” with the kids. Each week, the four teams of kids must work together as a team to complete about 6 challenges, each of which represents a city around the world. (For instance, match a Chinese symbol in a game of memory for “China Town”, or memorize 3 simple phrases in Creole for Port-au-Prince, Haiti).
Amelia was the team leader for “Team Marshmallow”. In the first activity, I looked around at all the groups. They were supposed to be using two mats (as a team) to cross the gym floor without stepping off of the mats - “Crossing the Delaware River”. The kids were STRUGGLING. Man… they were having to start over again and again, and pushing each other off the pads! Teamwork is key for most of these challenges.
Suddenly, I see Amelia’s team FAR surpassing the others, so I went to look into how they were doing it. I saw Amelia huddling the entire group together, giving clear direction, physically giving support and holding onto her team members who were falling off, and giving each child words of encouragement as they went. Immediately after the activity, I let her know that I had noticed her leadership and was proud of her!
The entire day continued this way! While some of the younger kids would mess up activities, lose items that were needed, or get distracted, Amelia guided them gently and kindly, and her team flew through the challenges.
It was no surprise that Team Marshmallow won by a long shot! When I let them know that they were the first team to finish, Amelia immediately turned to her other (younger) teammates, and individually said to them “You deserve this,” “You worked so hard,” “Great team work,” “You helped us accomplish this.” She gave every child a high 5 and said “We couldn’t have done this without any one of you. No one deserves this more than each of you because you worked so hard.” I was seriously crying!! So often, leadership comes in the form of bossiness, or wanting power and control. Her servant leadership (at age 11!!) was so touching, encouraging and convicting!!
by Megan Brooks, Director of TVN
This month’s focused story is going to be a little bit different. Instead of talking about one of our AMAZING kids (although, man - are there stories I could tell!!!) This week, I want to tell the story of one of our parents whose child just started After School Program this month.
I received a call from Desarae about two weeks ago, concerning her son, Shepherd. I talked to Desarae for over 30 minutes as she explained that she worried Shepherd might have dyslexia, that he wasn’t getting the support he needed from school, and needed help that was beyond what she could give him. In our conversation, I heard a fierce mom who was trying her best to help her son with school, confidence and rootedness. She described an extremely bright little boy that needed an extra hand, who needed to catch up in reading, and who needed the confidence boost of meeting some friends, and getting some extra help. By the end of the conversation, mom and I were BOTH crying. I could tell just by talking to her on the phone, that I already loved this family, but my heart was grieved. There were six children ahead of Shepherd on the waiting list, and we usually only fill an average of two spots per semester. Saying “no” to families who have a clear need is one of the worst parts of my job.
I explained the wait list to Desarae and I could hear the desperation in her voice. I offered to hold a spot for Shepherd in our summer program, and to send her registration information for next year. I told her I would call her if a spot opened up, but we both knew it was unlikely.
Later that week, I began making calls to the parents of kids who had not been to program in a few weeks. Usually, when we tell them that we will fill their spot, unless they are coming regularly, kids’ attendance shoots right back up. However, for ALL SIX children that I called, they had become involved in after school activities, and mom said to go ahead and fill their spot - 6 kids! Shepherd was number 7 (out of now 9) on our waiting list. ‘One more spot’, I thought. This could happen! I grieved the loss of the kids who would no longer be with us (who I completely adore, and will miss desperately). But I also knew, that GOD knew, that Shepherd was number 7. That Shepherd had a desperate, fierce mom who cried with me on the phone. That Shepherd needed the After School Program more. As I began to make calls to fill the waiting list, parents were ecstatic. They kept saying, “Yes, we will come tomorrow!” One by one the spots filled up. The LAST phone call I made, a little boys’ dad let me know that they had moved out of the district, and didn’t need their spot. GUYS. Shepherd was number 7. Shepherd could come to the After School Program.
So, only two weeks after I had talked with Desarae, and told her that it was unlikely that we could get Shepherd in this year, I was able to call her (with tears in my eyes) and tell her that a spot had opened up. Shepherd is now at the After School Program with us! He is going great and growing his reading skills in Lit Zone. Our kids are loving on him. Our volunteers adore him (because he is precious and witty and respectful). Desarae was thrilled, and thankful, and asked if she could come fill out his papers that same week.
The come and go of children can be hard on our staff and volunteers. We fall in love with these kids. Saying goodbye is breaking off a little piece of our hearts. I will miss Jonathan S., and remember consoling him for MONTHS after his bunny, Love, died. I will miss Nicole and how she has grown into the compassionate young lady who would share a page of her brand new coloring book with each kid in the After School Program. I will miss Jonathan M, and praying through a rough 3rd grade year of math with him, and then watching him excel in 4th and 5th grade - He was one of my original After School Kids. I will miss Erick, and his up-to-no-good smile. I will miss Ashley, who was in my reading group over the summer and was so eager to learn. I will miss Enola, who all of Yellow Zone called “Nanola”, because of Kelly’s inability to say her name. And I will miss my Mel, who had SEVERAL times in my office, talking about behavior, but who completely won my heart over the last 3 years (finger paint on the bathroom walls, and all.)
That being said, the reality of our waiting list is that, as some kids outgrow their need for us, there are SO many kids who need the After School Program very, very much. Kids like Shepherd, who need to be given a chance. Kids like Jayven, who we welcomed earlier this year. So while our group is always changing and growing, I trust God completely that the kids who find us are the ones who need it the most.
by Megan Brooks, Director of TVN
For our featured story this month, I would just love to focus on how amazing ALL of the kids have been in this Christmas season, and especially their behavior and performance at the Christmas show. It has been so fun for me to work with the kids on the show this year. For those of you who were not able to make it to the show, the kids sang 5 songs (Noche de Paz, Angels we have Heard on High, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Feliz Navidad). They spent about 3 hours a week practicing the last few months, put so much effort and focus into it, and did a phenomenal job. We also had Vennus and Alex S share scriptures about the birth of Jesus. Justin, Xochitl, Alexander and Denise shared about the true meaning of Christmas, and Kimberly, Kelly and Andy CRUSHED their solos.
One of the most exciting elements of the Christmas show, for me, is seeing all of the people who love these kids rally around them. It is so unifying and fun to have sponsors, volunteers, and families all in the same place. I have always felt passionate about The Village Norristown, because it truly takes a village to raise children up in Christ, and to make sure that families in any community have what they need. It was so fun for me to see this village come together.
by Megan Brooks, Director of TVN
This month, the kids have just been blowing my mind with how kind, mature, and thoughtful they have been. This month has been FILLED to the brim with moments that made me feel so, so proud of the kiddos.
One moment that stands out to me occurred during gym time. Andy got upset because a group of girls already had the maximum number of people for a certain game that they were playing, and had told him to come back in a little for the next round. I was keeping my eye on the situation. I had asked Andy if he was okay and he said yes, but he was clearly upset and sulking. I decided to give him some alone time. Denise, who hadn’t been aware of the situation and didn’t know why Andy was upset, saw him sitting by himself in the playhouse. This was their precious conversation:
Denise: “Andy, are you okay?”
Andy: “Yeah…I’m okay…”
Denise: “Okay. Well if you decide that you aren’t okay, and you need a friend, you can come talk to me.”
YOU GUYS! My heart! Denise is 6. She had zero idea that I was listening from several feet away, facing the other direction. This is just one of SO many moments this month where I have seen our kids treat each other, and adults, with kindness and love. They are amazing and beautiful examples for all of us!
by Megan Brooks, Director of TVN
Wow, guys! This week’s focused story was a no-brainer for me. I would like to share a story with you about a little boy, who some of you know, named Ioshua. Ioshua has been with us for 3 years, and is now in 3rd grade. Over the last 3 years, we have been working with him so hard on reading. Ioshie could not read in first grade. He did not know his letters, in fact, the sounds he made for the letters were not sounds in either English or Spanish. Several volunteers put extra time and effort into practicing letters with him, every single day. In second grade, Ioshie still couldn’t read. The progress we had made throughout the year dissipated over the summer, as he didn’t come to our Summer Bridge Program. He went to Lit Zone every single day, and volunteers spent half hour increments with him every single day with his sight words. By the end of second grade, Ioshie was beginning to read words like “the”, “at”, “and”. But he was still so far behind.
Over the Summer that Ioshie was going into 3rd grade, he was in our 1st grade level Summer Bridge group. This year, he has had Lit Zone every day. We have read with him every day. We have fought alongside Mom to get him an IEP at school, and, at the beginning of the year, he got a reading specialist at school.
Last week, Ms. Michele called me over the table, and pointed to Ioshie reading out loud. He read an ENTIRE Dr. Suess book out loud, understood the entire thing, and said “I really like this book”. He then said to us, “Can you tell my mom that I can read now?”
I was pretty much crying for the rest of the afternoon. Lit Zone works. Extra time spent with kiddos works. Hours of encouraging and building up and praying and talking with parents works. This is why we have the After School Program. It is my heart to give kids like Ioshie more of a chance in life. To see what they need, and try our best to meet it.
Since that day, I believe, as a result of ALL of the volunteers completely surrounding Ioshie with pride and encouragement, Ioshie has been excited to do his homework, he has been more confident, and he has been asking for more help.
This is why we do what we do! Whether you are a part of TVN through volunteering, sponsoring a child, sponsoring a missionary or donating toward our program, YOU are a part of this, and we are making a difference! Thank you!
by Megan Brooks, Director of TVN
To be honest, it was hard for me to choose just one moment to focus on this month. September was so full of love, new faces, great questions, and awesome conversation. I have been brought to tears by the hearts of volunteers, both new and seasoned. This month though, I would like to share a little bit about a new little boy that we serve named Jayven.
Jayven is in second grade and in Blue Zone. The very first thing I noticed about him, after his cute smile (missing several teeth) …was… “Oh boy, this is going to be a behavior challenge.” Jayven did not listen to any rules, was openly and purposefully disobedient, and didn’t seem to appreciate any kind of structure. I found notes in his backpack from his Special Education teacher, indicating he would need extra attention with reading help. Soon, I learned he wasn’t able to read much at all… but I couldn’t keep his attention for more than a few seconds, before he got angry with me. I left day one praying for patience and understanding.
Over the last few weeks, I have seen Jayven catch on to the rules. I have heard him ask intelligent and pertinent questions to volunteers. While he still acts out sometimes, I see him actively trying to engage appropriately and respect volunteers. He has begun responding VERY well to firm “No’s” or “Please do this now”. I began to thank God, but also wonder what changed.
Last week, I was walking Jayven up to Lit Zone for some reading help, and he looked up at me with his big eyes (holding my hand) and said “Can I ask you a question?” He was being kind of cute, so I thought he was maybe trying to manipulate me to avoid having to do work. “Yes, baby” I said.
“Why are you so nice to me?”
(Cue my watery eyes.) I sat down with him, and he proceeded to show genuine confusion as to why every one of the volunteers had been so kind to him. I realized that he probably doesn’t get that a whole lot at school, because of surface level behavioral issues. I was able to engage in a heart-felt conversation with Jayven about how Jesus is the only one who can help us to be patient and kind with one another, even when we’ve had a bad day. God wants us to love each other, and show each other his love. That’s why we are so nice here. Because we have love that comes from God. He really seemed to understand that.
Over the last week, I have come to realize that my interactions with Jayven are some of my favorite moments in my day. He still acts out sometimes, but I get him. I see his craving for attention (positive or negative). I see his frustration when he doesn’t understand. I see that he has needs that have, for a long time, been pushed under the rug out of desperation or lack of time. I get it.
Kids like Jayven are our TVN Big Picture. I feel like my conversations with Jayven have been a gift from God, reminding me why we started. I came to TVN praying for God to give me the kids who needed to see more of who He is… the kids with the behavior problems... the kids who couldn’t read… the kids who needed help… the kids starving for attention and love… the kids who needed to be listened to… the kids who need a hand up… the families who need Jesus… the families who need hope.
Jayven is my gift this year. Watching him learn, and watching him get a glimpse of Jesus through this program, helps to remind me why I started. Watching other volunteers fall in love with him, and see his needs reminds me that every person at TVN has a desire to reach the hearts of these kids. We are fighting the good fight, and I can’t think of anything more encouraging than to be surrounded by this awesome team.