Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Prayers of Children

Every day at Harbor House, we have a devotion time where we learn about something from the Bible and pray together. Our kids are from such a diverse group of religions and personal experiences, and most of our lessons revolve around how much God loves them. I also like to tell them how they can talk to God at any time and any place they want.

Today, I asked them if anyone knew what my favorite Bible story was. They did: the one where the kids flock to Jesus and the disciples rebuke them, saying that they should leave Jesus alone.  Jesus, in turn, rebukes the disciples, telling them to "let the little children come to me." I love telling children that story, especially children who haven't heard it before and are awe-struck at the fact that Jesus wanted to spend time with people just like them. It is a true honor to see children's faces as they realize the love of God for them.

Today, we took it a little farther and all prayed together.  We pray every day and bring one or two kids up front to pray for our snack and whatever concerns are on their heart.  It is an honest, beautiful process to see kids talking directly to God.  We have a bit of a wonderful problem in that too many of the kids want to pray every day, so today I decided to let them go for it. I told them that we would all pray together, and they could just close their eyes and raise their hands and when I called their name, they could ask or thank God for something.  About a third of them did it - which is a huge fraction to speak in front of the whole group, let alone in something as intimate as prayer.  They asked for rain, healing for family members, jobs and money for family members, and good things for Harbor House.  They thanked God for food, friends, family, life, Harbor House, and "everything." It was beautiful and I am so honored to have been a part of it.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer Staff

 Here's my staff for the summer! They are an extremely diverse group, in many ways.

We have staff whose family have origins in Cambodia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Mexico, Vietnam, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Tanzania, as well as African Americans, Caucasian Americans, and one Native American staff member.  

These staff members are between 13-27 years old (the ones in their mid-20s are not pictured), plus me (not telling). 

Some go to Oakland public schools, some to community colleges in Oakland, and some to private schools (one young woman has a scholarship to an extremely prestigious private school in the area).

Their personalities range from introverted to extroverted, from shy to gregarious, from responsible to forgetful, and from guarded to open.  Sometimes I see them cycle between one extreme to another in the same week, or even the same day.

The one thing they all have in common is that they really want to do their best.  They're here for the kids, although sometimes they forget that, which is understandable because they are kids themselves.  They are kind, thoughtful, funny, and help me out whenever I ask (usually).  They are my favorite teenagers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


One of our more dedicated Harbor House volunteers is an avid quilter. Harbor House does have a quilting group, but that wasn't what attracted this volunteer.  As someone who's worked with children as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), Bruce wanted to stay in touch with one of his families after his official capacity ended.  So when the kids joined the Harbor House program, Bruce offered to volunteer with us once a week.  Thus started what Humphrey Bogart might call a beautiful friendship between Bruce and Harbor House.

Bruce works with the youngest kids; primarily the boys. Many of these little guys have no male role models in their lives and crave the attention of any man who volunteers. They don't have a lot of people who really listen to them, and Bruce

does this well. He sits on the ground with the kids and looks them in the eye and gives them his full attention, whether they're having an argument, playing a game or telling a drawn-out story about their neighbor's cat.

Some volunteers increase their involvement as they get to know an organization while others slowly fade away as the novelty wears off. Bruce is the former. In addition to spending time with the kids, he started buying us snack ingredients, which both helps out our budget and the over-stretched schedules of our staff who would otherwise have to go snack shopping. When we discussed how often he'd want to come help out during the summer program, Bruce started with Tuesdays and Thursdays, then decided Friday field trips sounded fun. Before the program started, he had added in Mondays, and he just let me know that he could often come on Wednesdays, just a little late.

Our teenage staff is sometimes a little hesitant about having volunteers assigned to help them.  They've seen many volunteers come and go, and while there have been some absolute shining stars, it can be hard for teenagers with a lot of responsibility to adjust to different people helping. In addition, many of our volunteers are white (our staff and kids are generally not) and of retirement age, so it can be tough for the staff to relate to them.  Wary of these concerns about volunteers, I asked the counselor in charge of one of the younger groups if she was OK having Bruce volunteer for the summer in her group. She said, "Yay Bruce! Do I get him the whole time?? That helps me so much. Everyone loves Bruce!!"  Yes, Bruce, everyone here at Harbor House does love you.  Here's lookin' at you, kid.