Each year our interns write several papers throughout their time here in response to things they’re learning from their reading assignments and from their involvement with CLDI and the neighborhood. Over the next few months I would like to share some of those reflections on the topic of community. This first one is from Danny Schrock, one of our Youth Works interns.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as well as yourself.” Luke 10:27 (Danny’s paraphrase). My experience on the South Side has been God filling my heart with love. And Him showing me that the best I can do in this world is love Him and love people. “What does loving people on the South Side look like?” you might ask. Well, for me, it looks like hanging out with kids at 316.
316 is CLDI’s youth center. It is located in the row houses right behind Riverside Middle School. I am there most weekdays after school. We host cooking classes, survival classes, singing classes, and have hangout times for elementary, middle school, and high school kids.
On my way to 316, I see the familiar faces of kids I know walking home from school and wave at them as I drive by. Upon arrival, one of the other interns or myself unlocks the door, switches the sign to open, and turns on the lights. At this point, we usually have a few minutes to sit down before the kids catch up with us walking from school. This moment is kind of like that eerie calm right before a thunderstorm. It is strangely quiet and peaceful. But we all know it is going to suddenly change. Soon, no one will be able to imagine this little building ever being calm or peaceful. It starts slowly, with one or two kids arriving and giving us all hugs. Then a few more arrive, and there are more hugs and some excited yelling. Then suddenly, I’m never quite sure when it actually happens, there seem to be kids everywhere. They are running around, wanting to play a game or tell someone a story about what happened to them at school, or maybe a joke they heard. There is a little basketball game, Foosball, board games, and an Xbox. Kids will be using all of them. Some will try to do all of them all at once. It is quite noisy, and rarely do these small humans do anything quietly.
At some point, Brad*, one of our high schoolers, will come in yelling loudly about how excited he is to see everyone and talking like Donald Duck. He is quite good at the imitation, which makes for amusing conversation. Our windows are decorated with the dinosaurs Lucas* draws, he makes us new ones for every holiday. Gary* will inevitably end up bullying some kid or getting upset about something before the day is over, and declaring he is never coming back. He usually returns within five minutes. He really tries to be a punk but struggles with the commitment.
If the weather is even remotely tolerable, I will end up outside with a few of the guys playing football or shooting hoops over at the school. After goofing off, we will come back in for a snack. At closing time, it is quite an ordeal to get everyone out the door and home. Most of them don’t want to leave, and there are always a few that need a ride.
One day when we were closing down, I heard shrieking from the back porch. Alyssa (fellow intern) was frantically yelling my name. Slightly alarmed, I went to see what crisis was causing this commotion. I arrived on the back porch to find a boy with a quite small and quite dead puppy and Traci (another fellow intern) trying to resuscitate it. The puppy didn’t appear to have expired that recently, which made the attempts at resuscitation seem futile. I, being fairly accustomed to seeing dead animals, made the suggestion that perhaps the best thing to do would be throw the not-that-recently-expired puppy in the dumpster. This idea did not elicit a joyful or positive response from my fellow interns, who wondered how anyone could make such a heartless suggestion and insisted on helping the boy bury his former companion. This brought up the problem as to where to bury it, as the South Side does not offer a lot of choice dog burial grounds, and how to dig the hole, since we did not have a shovel. I decided if they wanted to try to bury the small dog, they could certainly do so, as long as they didn’t expect me to help. I didn’t feel the need to clearly communicate this thought, so I simply returned inside to finish cleaning up 316.
A short while later, Traci returned and assured me that the dog had been properly laid to rest. I gave the situation no further thought until I returned to the back porch after cleaning 316 and preparing to leave. As I was leaving, I noticed the same boy running around on the street with yet another small puppy. He was running around showing it to other kids. I was too far away to see if this puppy showed any signs of life. So, I hollered across the street at the young lad, asking him if that puppy was also dead. He nodded his head in affirmation. It seemed odd to me that the boy would happen to have two dead puppies on the same day. This thought caused me to inquire of him, “Did you dig it back up?” The boy stared at me with a slightly guilty expression on his face. This was not reassuring, so I inquired again, “Is that the same dog you had earlier?” He nodded his head slowly. I found this to be both startling and concerning. The situation seemed to call for some great words of wisdom, but I could think of no other words at the time than to tell him to throw it away. This seemed to be the response he was expecting, as he nonchalantly walked to the nearest dumpster and threw it in, thus ending all drama pertaining to puppies. I, however, was left wondering, “What just happened here? Why did the boy have a dead puppy? Why did he bring it to 316? And why for the love of all that is good, did he dig it back up?” These are questions I suppose we will never know the answer to.
There are a lot of unanswered questions in this community. Who am I? Who is God? Where is God? Where is my next meal coming from? Who is that guy sleeping on the couch? Where is my child or mother or father? What is the point of living? I cannot answer these questions, but I know a God who can. He knows each one of these kids personally. He created and loves them. He has also put a love for them in my heart. I can’t answer all of the questions of the South Side but I can introduce people to a God who can. Through Him, I can love these kids, dead puppies and all.
*Names have been changed for privacy