With our blazers and high heels, Ann and I didn’t look ready for playtime. Even though we’re relatively new to Operation HOPE, we were assigned to teach kids in an after school music program about money basics and had become unofficial representatives of the Banking on Our Future program.
We meticulously planned our dialogue, deliberated about the comprehensibility of our lesson plan, and developed back-up strategies–all in fear of boring the children. At the end of the Wednesday workday, we felt confident that no matter what, we would be prepared.
Yet by Thursday the nerves seemed to return. We walked up to a gated apartment complex in our stiff shoes and hesitantly rang the buzzer. The intercom wasn’t working properly and the grounds seemed deserted.
A small boy came up to us, looking equally hesitant when catching a glimpse of our fancy work clothes and unfamiliar faces. “We’re here with Operation HOPE?” Ann said hesitantly. He led us past the gate to the music room.
Two instructors stood in the room (Dana and Roy) – with their supplies still not in order and half the kids still not present; they weren’t ready for two newbies to take on a room full of bubbling kids. They introduced us to Dijon, the self-appointed 11-year-old ambassador of the students. He teased us without hesitance – he was still too young to care about tact but precocious enough to mess with us. “You two sound exactly the same,” he said laughing. “You know how weird that is?”
Our discomfort dissipated as others poured in. Brya, a fashionable 10-year-old, wore sparkling pink shoes and loved fashion; suddenly our heels and dresses felt more fun than intimidating. Erin, new to the piano but excited to learn, helped us feel less novice when she hesitantly plucked out a song on the keyboard.
We weren’t the only ones trying something new.
The language of money seemed to be the most binding of all. “Can you guys think of something you want to buy right now?” Ann asked once the group had settled and introductions ended. Suddenly all feelings of timidity disappeared as students eagerly piped up dreams of owning Star Wars lego sets, Wii games, and skateboards. Though as recent graduates we have a vastly different lifestyle than most of the kids in the room, all of us agreed that money management was something worth a serious discussion.
Together we played a game that helped students create a budget. Since the nonprofit, Choice Group Inc., provides at-risk and foster youth with a music and artistic environment after school, kids budgeted money they would earn by performing their instruments, saving money for bus passes, instrument rental, and lunch. Rather than using a stock curriculum written at a general children’s audience, Ann and I personalized the exercises to be more meaningful for the group.
When the kids enthusiastically played us some drum circle warm-up exercises, we knew that our time spent was catered to the kids’ experiences.
Ann and I left the session with a greater appreciation for the work of both of Dana and Roy, the two main staff members of Choice Group Inc., and the work of HOPE Corps volunteers. Teaching Banking on Our Future means bringing very diverse groups of people together to share experiences and work collaboratively for the future of at-risk children. This means that volunteers have to be conscious of differences and open to the contributions of individuals with different perspectives – particularly two well-seasoned instructors with experiences growing up in foster care.
Leaving our first BOOF session, we felt a little more open and a lot more eager to meet the kids of our next workshop. In our next session, we’ll be discussing dignity and empowerment to a group of kids who truly deserve to understand their self-worth.