When we started our new programming on Monday I was a little apprehensive. About 50 kids walked out of the Kennel, leaving us with 9 interested in sticking around. As I watched 50 kids wander outside our gates I wondered, are we doing the right thing?
On Tuesday the answer became clear.
Again 50 students left. 8 remained. We hopped in the van and headed up for a field trip. The trip was to learn about animals and veterinary things. After a quick tour of the veterinary clinic we headed out to farm along a very very muddy road. Let’s just say I tried my hand at mud-bogging and had to hand over the wheel.
When we got to the farm it was awesome. There were all these animals our students had never encountered before. A llama, alpacas, a miniature horse, pigs, and dwarf goats. The kids lit up as they got to pet the animals and learn about them more. I mean come on, who doesn’t want to take a llama for a run on a Tuesday afternoon?
It was so apparent to me that we were doing the right thing when I watched a certain kid walk the llama. This is a kid who was plagued with depression last year. He was empty and broken. This year things are looking up for him. He had so much joy hanging out with those animals I thought I would burst. I never imagined seeing him happy and content. When he was watching the llama eat grass he yelled out to me,
“I like the way he eats! And I like the way it sounds. He is making me hungry!”
“Maybe you should try some of what he is having!” I jokingly suggested.
A minute later he has picked up some grass and put it in his mouth.
“Yuck!” He exclaims. “That doesn’t taste good!”
“I didn’t mean it!!” I laughed so hard.
But my favorite thing ever was watching T. T's dad died last year and he still is trying to recover. For him this has meant drinking away the days with no hope for his future. His goal, he would exclaim was to be a camel (a drunk) for the rest of life. I was worried that the rest of his life wasn’t going to be very long.
But T lit up around these animals. During the sedation of the horse and the subsequent examination of his teeth, this student was right by the veterinarians’ side. He asked intentional and intelligent questions. He went elbow deep in the horse’s mouth, examining and listening closely to what he was to feel for.
There was a light in him that I had not seen in a very long time.
I was watching as kids found a passion, a path, a possibility. I was watching them light up with new experiences and opportunities. I was so tickled when Noah’s prayer for the food ended with, “. . . and God, thank you for letting me hold a goat today.”
And it produced in them a gratitude that I have never seen before.
When we were recounting the experience over pizza the kids asked, without prodding, “Who bought the pizza?”
Lydia explained that she has picked it up. A chorus of thank yous followed. We even heard “yes ma’am” and “yes sir!"
Their impeccable manners had been an unexpected result from these new opportunities.
As we got in the car to go home one of the students yelled something at me and then said, “love you!”
“Love you too!” I called back.
“Yea, I know you do. You guys really love me.” His voice was sincere.
“We definitely do man,” I replied. “We love you a lot.”
It made all the changes with our programming worth it. It was a long day, so very long, but I wouldn't have traded it. It was rain storms and floods on the way home, but I wouldn’t have exchanged my life for anything.