The Appreciation of the Unexpected

Alli holding up one of her arts and crafts

I generally like to wake up a little earlier for some “me” time in the mornings. I use this time to make breakfast (coffee’s an absolute MUST in my life), begin my day in prayer, exercise, reading, whatever I need to center and ready myself for the day ahead, which always looks a little different for me.

About once a month, CYO collaborates with the Syracuse City School District to put on a morning Welcome Academy. During this academy, newly arrived refugee children will come to CYO to experience a simulated classroom environment to begin acclimating the kids to what school in America is like. I work as one of the lead teachers for the elementary grade kiddos, and we do activities involving learning classroom greetings and responses like ‘Good morning!’ and ‘How are you?’, learning things we use at school and keep in our backpacks, lots and lots of coloring and drawing, and some collaborative team activities in CYO’s gym (watching the little guys running around playing soccer is one of the cutest things I’ve ever witnessed). One of my favorite things about Welcome Academy is seeing how each child progresses and learns throughout the week. As someone who studied cognitive science in college, I’m always fascinated in seeing how these little, brilliant minds quickly pick up on ideas that I never gave a conscious effort to learn when I was that age because I grew up automatically knowing them. On top of that, a good majority of these kids speak very little English, and it’s just so incredible to see how much they learn throughout just one week.

The biggest part of my day surrounds the afterschool program at CYO. I am in charge of coordinating the snack schedule for the program every week, so I dedicate some time during the week for snack planning. I also spend my time working with our youth team to plan that weeks’ activities for the program. These include arts and crafts, cooking, science, literacy, and activities in the gym. I would say that the literacy and gym activities, which provoke my inner loves of reading and competition, excite me the most, but I love leading all sorts of activities. It’s always pretty cool to see the kids engage with what we plan, and I am especially fond of the moments where they get excited about things that I am initially weary about introducing. You really never know which activities will land and which will immediately need to be thrown out the window, so I think it would be safe to say that I have grown a lot in my flexibility this year. When the kids arrive at CYO, they are met with snack and some structured free time activities like coloring, playing with blocks, homework help, or just time to sit and be with friends. We then transition into the activities we’ve planned for the day. We’ve recently changed our structure to give more agency to the kids as they get to decide which activity to do out of three different choices. After our activities finish and everything gets cleaned up, we’ll line everyone up to get ready to go home. Some days, I’ll drive the kids who need transportation home in one of CYO’s 12 passenger vans. Not to brag or anything, but I’ve become a #Boss at parallel parking that baby.

In addition to my responsibilities with the Welcome Academy and afterschool program, I’ve recently been spending some time in one-on-one mentorship opportunities with teens involved in CYO’s MAC (Making a Connection) program. I’ve been helping a lot with job-related tasks like bringing some of our clients to job interviews, helping prep them with interview questions and assisting with job applications and creating a resume.

I never really know what my day will look like prior to arriving at CYO, which can be a little overwhelming for some, but I think that is the biggest blessing of the service I am doing. Not really knowing what to expect during my day really grounds me in the present moment. Yes, there may be important tasks looming overhead, but the moments of my service that I seem to look at most fondly almost always comes in the unexpected: in the laughter in chatting with a teen driving home from a job interview, in the hugs and smiles I receive from the afterschool kiddos, and in how no matter what tumultuous situations may arise, I am still able to find God in my day. And I bring this appreciation of the unexpected into my community life as well. I love to come home and be energized in the presence of my community, hearing the tales of RaeAnn, Paige, Lucy, and Tristen’s own action-filled days, relinquishing the oh so silliest thoughts that appear in our minds, giggling and sharing in moments with my community that I could have never expected and will absolutely cherish forever.

Categories: General

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