Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ferguson Library: A Summer Day Full of Chills

I keep thinking about the multiple moments I got the chills today while working at the Ferguson Library. The good kind of chills. The kind that precede progress.

200 kids.
100 volunteers.
A TON of donations.

Just another day at the Ferguson Library!

When I arrived early this morning, the library was closed to the public, but that didn't stop families from lining the sidewalk in anticipation of the 9:00 AM opening. After coordinating some of our volunteers and speaking with the other wonderful staff, I did my thing. I walked out the door, pen in hand, donning a time-tested maroon button-down, and started getting parents and kids fired up for the day. They still had ten minutes before they could go in, but I was compelled to make sure even the moments in the morning heat on the sidewalk would be fun and engaging.

The day started and the kids poured in. Parents remembering Mr. E from yesterday cheerily shouted "Hello" and "Gooooooood morning!" right back at me, some beating me to the punch. I had a few kids hug me or demand high fives as they entered. I'd only met them yesterday.

One child insisted that he knew me from somewhere other than the library. No matter how much I disagreed, he was convinced that I was a teaching assistant at his elementary school. This was my first time working with the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

The surge of students quickly filled the library. Once we were full, we sent kids to our overflow site at First Baptist Church just down the street. Thanks to the wonderfully well organized folks at Springboard, we had plenty of arts, music, dancing, and other activities for our kids to do. Because of the efforts of the church, Springboard, the library, and all of the volunteers, from our organization, Teach for America, and so many other places, we were able to accept every child who came to us to learn.

And we had visitors too: Governor Jay Nixon; Captain Ron Johnson and several officers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol; Judge Marvin Teer; St. Louis City Alderman Antonio French. I watched kids line up to talk with Captain Johnson, but only for a second. The Pre-K kids needed a story to read, and the Science Center staff came in to do my favorite experiment: SLIME!

I should also mention that Jack Dorsey of Twitter-fame was there yesterday. He volunteered for much of the day with a friend. He joined a legion of St. Louisans who have given so willingly of their time to make these children feel special.

Due respect to all of our visitors, but I was absolutely floored when I heard the familiar, low, radio-ready voice of high school football teammate and righteous dude Anthony Wise. He just got in from out of town and had to volunteer. I took him with me and he settled down with our Pre-K crowd.

Anthony is a tall man. He towered over these kids and spoke with a booming voice--the kids loved him! I came back a while later to see him pick out a book to read out loud. I sat down to watch as the kids interacted with him and asked him questions in the middle of the story about a boy and his alien friend. Other volunteers started watching too not just because he is engaging, but because he actually wasn't reading the story at all. He was making up a story, with the kids, based on the pictures in the book. I had to leave because I was tearing up laughing. He'll be back tomorrow.

The day wound down. Parents picked up their kids. I gave every kid and parent the old don't-eat-your-slime joke on their way out. The high school students I am coordinating as volunteers helped reunite kids and their parents. Two middle school brothers weren't picked up. Well after the program ended, after exhausting all resources, I walked with them to their grandmother's home.

We talked about a lot of things on our walk: jet planes, the neighborhood, the protests in Ferguson. We even passed through the protest being held in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Our conversation was natural, nothing pressed. The younger kid told me he felt like I was his cousin.

After getting them home, I walked back to the library alone. I passed through the protest again. I stopped to invite parents to bring their kids to the library tomorrow. One man said he volunteered there today. I thanked him, he smiled, and I left him standing on the street with a sign.

I skipped one piece of the day. As I was waiting for someone to pick up the two brothers, two young black men asked to do an interview with me. They traveled from Virginia to show the real story of Ferguson. The interview turned into a conversation about education in the whole region, about the importance of giving every child a chance, about what we can do when we decide to work together.

Toward the end of the interview, I got the chills, those good ones, not just because I am passionate about education and kids and our future, not just because of the outpouring of support this program has received, but because the men who were interviewing me, who were there just to document my words, were nodding in agreement.

I invite you to join us at the Ferguson library again tomorrow. Click here for the details.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps
www.EdExCo.org



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