The Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center Kids Club is an incredible facility consisting of five pools, tennis courts, gym, park, etc, and financed by local residents. We are situated in a low-income, high crime area with a diverse minority population. In order to ensure that kids could attend the program, we applied for and were granted scholarship money from the Division of Workforce Services Youth Connections Funding. It sounds like the perfect situation, so imagine our surprise last summer when our efforts were met with distrust and even threats of violence. In the end, the episode taught all of us at Kids Club about how love and caring can heal children and has made us better at our jobs.
Last summer, ten children who were members of an extended family participated in the program. They were filled with hatred and mistrust. As the weeks progressed, so did their negative behavior. We tried every possible way of navigating the children through challenges even to the point of expelling them time and time again, but never once did we give up. Things came to a head when one day, the boys threatened our counselors with personal violence. This was the day of reckoning. The counselors gathered the children together and tearfully expressed their love and disappointment and sent them home.
Several days later, we received a call asking if the children could come back and apologize to the counselors. We assumed they were trying to earn back their right to attend the program. To our surprise, these kids came in and tearfully shared their thoughts and hugged each one of the staff and left. They wanted us to know that because of our program, they finally felt like they were really loved and they belonged. We invited them to rejoin Kids club and they attended for the rest of the summer without incident.
There is no question in our minds that we made a difference by showing these kids that we cared about them. It was hard, but we were determined to prevail and we are a stronger staff because of it.