What makes a home - the house or the people?
My thoughts started wandering Saturday afternoon after the most amazing experience at St. Joseph Orphanage in Monfort Heights. I signed up to volunteer through a leadership group I participate in, anxious for a new opportunity to give back and get exposed to one of the many amazing programs helping children in Greater Cincinnati.
We met one of the program's directors - he told us these children (between 7 and 14) were foster kids waiting to be placed in a home. Some of them were waiting for new foster assignments, others had been temporarily removed from a home because they exhibited extreme behavioral problems and needed counseling before returning to the environment. Other children had come to the orphanage from Children's Hospital, where they were treated after trying to hurt themselves.
Hearing these scenarios made my heart sink.
Meeting the children after hearing these scenarios made my heart break.
We volunteers split into two groups, each getting paired up with a group of four children. I chose to assist the kids with a sweet task - icing Easter themed sugar cookies. Over sugary sprinkles and tubes of colored icing, we talked about hobbies, favorite movies and jewelry. I was open and friendly, trying to put some of the more hesitant children at ease, and after a while everyone was laughing and having a good time.
I consciously steered the conversation to less complicated topics, not wanting to bring up anything uncomfortable. The topic of family is an easy conversation starter for most people, but these were children without families and homes, and I had the sense it was a hard burden for a little person to carry around.
These little kids were a tiny handful of the 500,000 foster children across the country waiting and hoping for a place and a family to call home. I wish I were in a position to become a foster parent, but unfortunately my shoebox of an apartment and financial situation don't lend themselves to taking care of another being (two-legged, four-legged or otherwise).
That doesn't mean I can't give my time.
The afternoon I spent with those kids really opened my eyes to how easy it is to encourage someone to do something they're passionate about, and how important that encouragement is to someone searching for their way in the world.
I hope I get another chance to see those kids - they did me as much good as I them.