The sun was hanging low in the sky, temperature and humidity evened out after a bipolar weather day. As I walked down the block to visit a friend, I passed one of Hopeprint's properties and witnessed the kids breaking into the playroom. "Hey!" I let out a piercing, firm shout that I've become a little to practiced at doing. Eight children froze in their tracks before scurrying away with, "It wasn't me, it wasn't me!" (A claim I always love when I watched them with my own eyes.)
Based on the accounts of my team members and other neighbors, I was well aware that this was becoming far too normalized as summer decends upon us, and was inwardly cringing at another summer of trash everywhere, disrespect of the property, parent discussions and the other joys of urban summer life. Summer and I have a love/hate relationship.
Approaching the small crowd, I took a deep breath and decided on my tactic. In a very calm, measured voice I began, "Please don't lie to me because I saw you do it, and so did the camera I have in my security system. You all contributed to this, and none of you are off the hook, so we are all going to clean it up together." While a few started raising their voices and pointing figures, I calmly raised my voice. "I really don't care. You all contributed and now we are all going to clean it up."
I grabbed a few trash bags for the leftover Easter eggs that had been smashed all throughout the yard somehow. We tag teamed lifting the wood that a church generously donated to build beautiful garden boxes, now tossled in a pile. We sprayed down the tarp that had been torn off the potting soil, replacing the stones to hold it in place (away from the makeshift see saw creation).
As we got to the garden boxes so beautifully planted a week ago by some incredibly generous and caring people who gave us their entire Saturday, I shook my head. Many were uprooted and dying, while others had clearly been haphazardly returned to their home after another child had touched them. If I'm honest, I wanted to let out a scream with some stern words. "Don't you all realize the thousands of dollars, love and care that people invest in you to make beautiful spaces that you just ruined?!" Fortunately, I took another breath and chose a different road.
"Find all the flowers that you can see the roots, and dig a nice sized hole to put them in. Cover all the roots up with the dirt so they can have the nutrients they need. Once they are in, we aren't going to touch them again, okay." Before I knew it, kids of all ages were taking the flowers, checking with me on their methods and planting the flowers. "Miss Nicole, I did a good job, didn't I?"
As I surveyed the yard now cleaned up by the hands that had dismantled it, and watched them re-planting the flowers with great pride, I couldn't help but smile. Larry from across the street called me over, "Those kids you've got picking stuff up are the same ones that wrecked it." "I know Larry, that's why we are doing it."
"Can we still come play here?" a little six-year-old asked inquisitively. "Yes sweetie, that is why we are here. But you have to respect my property. What does that mean?" He rattled off the rules I had just given him, and I responded to him in his mother tongue of Spanish. "Si. Entiendas?" (Yes, do you understand?) His little face lit up at hearing his mother tongue and he nodded excitedly.
As I closed up the property and walked away for the day, my cringing turned to smiling. I know that I am not going to find my flowers uprooted or the wood moved or the trash scattering the yard again later tonight. Why? Because we took the time to put the roots back in the soil together. We restored the beauty together.
For kids that live their lives in upheaval, most of their stories are filled with uprootedness. Respecting property and being responsible for space is something they haven't learned. So what beauty to find my flowers uprooted and put them back in the soil alongside of them. What a gift to be a giver of grace and second chances.
Want to help make this a summer full of opportunities to learn and grow for the children of Hopeprint's neighborhood? We need your help! Volunteer and donation opportunities are available by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our website at www.myhopeprint.org/donate or www.myhopeprint.org/volunteer.