Tuesday morning I had the privilege of accompanying a group of eleven 8th graders to Bethesda House on State Street in Schenectady as part of O'Rourke's 8th Grade Community Service Day. We spent a couple of hours in the basement of this facility that provides safe-haven, assistance, and hospitality to people in need. Our kids decorated the dining room for the holidays, taking great pride to put up a tree and hang garland and lights throughout. When we finished early, we sat in a quiet corner of the room and talked together about the students' impressions of the shelter. What surprised them? What services did the facility provide? What circumstances might lead someone, perhaps a young person, to seek help here? We talked about service in broader terms- Why serve and help others? What experiences have they had? Where can they help?
It was a great, mature, insightful conversation, led by Eileen Lofthouse, who chaperoned the group with myself and a parent. Once again our kids inspired me. They spoke of service in their families and neighborhoods, through their chuches, in the community, and around their school. Their most common reaction to Bethesda House was one of surprise at how open and friendly the people were to us as we worked there. I think they were genuinely aware that people there were hurting, and that in some small way they were bringing some hope. We talked for close to an hour. As we rode home on the bus, back up to BH-BL, I thought about how that experience might bring a new depth, a new insight to our students as they talked about what they were thankful for around their family dinner tables this week.
This opportunity was made possible by the work of retired library media specialist Marge Rizzo and teacher Joyce Brown. This year they mentored Lindsay Armbruster and Melissa Buyce in all of the myriad of details that helps the day to run without a hitch. Every eighth-grader was able to participate in a service opportunity. Small groups went out into all corners of the community, volunteering at Animal Protective, Ballston Community Library, Town of Ballston, Baptist Retirement Center, Bethesda House, City Mission, Clover Patch, Crossroads Center for Children, Dayhaven, Glendale Home, Glenville Senior Center, Headstart, K-Care, Maplewood Manor, Montessori School, Newmeadow School, Northeast Parent and Child, Parkside YMCA, Parsons, Salvation Army, Schenectady ARC, Schenectady Inner City Ministry Food Pantry, and the YWCC as well as helping with some in-house projects for Children's Hospital at AMC and Ronald McDonald House. The transportation department handled the drop-off and pick-ups smoothly and efficiently. Supervision was handled by staff and parent volunteers, and overseen by Principal Colleen Wolff. It was truly an impressive undertaking. Thank you so much to all involved. You gave our kids a gift.
A year ago, I would not have predicted that I would be here at BH-BL today. As I prepare sit around our Thanksgiving table with Denise and my four kids- Ben, Josh, Sara, and Caleb- I am very thankful for all of you. Thanks for welcoming me into this organization, for showing me the ropes, and for repeating your names as I get to know you! Thanks most of all for the great job you do with our kids! They continue to inspire me, as you inspire them. Happy Thanksgiving!