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3 min read

High-Impact Kids: Not Too Young to Make a Difference

Reaching children is key to breaking the cycle of homelessness. But even the best-intentioned adults don’t always succeed in connecting with kids right where they are. Enter Catcher and Anneke.

Anneke and Catcher DeHaan-1Their mom, UGM writer Genevieve St. Martin, wanted hands-on experience caring for people at UGM. She also wanted to give her children experience understanding others, especially those whose lives are different from theirs. The three signed up to serve in the childcare center every Tuesday at UGM’s Crisis Shelter for Women and Children.

“Without seeing some of the many different lifestyles and struggles that people experience, it’s hard to understand why people do what they do,” Genevieve says. “I think volunteering at a shelter is just one of many things we can do to grow in compassion for the world around us.”

Months into the pandemic lockdown, Anneke and Catcher, ages 14 and 12, were more than ready for something to get them out of their house and with other kids. After months of online school and the highly restricted reopening of in-person classes, they were excited to connect with others in a positive environment like the Crisis Shelter.

Crisis Shelter Childcare - Reading-1“I look forward to it,” Anneke says, “both because we love the kids and because our Tuesdays [in which they don’t currently have classes] are so boring! We’re not at school and I feel like I’m wasting my day.”

What Do “high-impact” kids do? 

The family serves in childcare starting at 4 p.m., then goes to the kitchen to help serve dinner. Then they return to the childcare area to help watch kids whose moms are in chapel and other commitments.

Sometimes Catcher and Anneke only differ in age by a year or two with the resident kids. They certainly have more youth and energy than the adult workers, which makes them invaluable playmates. And that’s what the kids always want to do: Play.

Crisis Shelter Childcare RoomThe activity of choice might change each week: dodgeball with stuffed animals, hide-and-seek using one of the five hiding places in the child care area, Twister, board games, drawing and coloring, dolls, toy basketball, make-believe of all kinds, even a caterpillar crawling tunnel. But whatever it is, the residents just don’t get tired of it.

Catcher says the best part is the joy the kids show when the family returns week after week. “I like their faces when we come back the next week and they recognize us. They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is the day we get to play with these kids!’ Because they always look forward to it, and then after dinner they want to come back.”

“It’s really fun to see them every week.”

The number of children in childcare varies widely based on the families currently at the short-term shelter. Anneke says they’ve had as few as one, and as many as fourteen kids at once.

What do kids get from volunteering? 

“It’s really fun, and it makes me feel a little bit different and special, which is something that’s pretty big in our lives,” Anneke says.

From things they see and hear from the kids, Anneke realizes that some negative actions she sees from her own classmates at school might be because of the disruptions in their homes.

“It made me realize how many kids at my own school might be just like them.
…It helps me understand them a bit better.”

Crisis Shelter Childcare - Playing with Blocks-1Interacting with families who come to UGM because they have no safe home has been eye-opening. Both the kids see more clearly all the blessings they don’t want to take for granted. Anneke says, “I have my huge bedroom and I can decorate it and have all my books down there; I love my room. And it’s really hard to imagine having to sleep in a place with just a quilt on the bed.”

The real impact. 

Childcare is offered at the shelter so that moms and guardians can work on taking their own positive steps, such as looking for work or resolving legal issues.

“Some of them just drop [the kids] off so they can take a shower,” Anneke says. “It’s really good to help them get some alone time.”

Sometimes the kids they’ve gotten to know leave the shelter, and it’s sad not to see them anymore. One family recently left the Crisis Shelter, but for a good reason: Mom was going into the recovery program at Anna Ogden Hall.

What would Catcher tell other families interested in serving in child care? Don’t expect an easy, relaxing job. “The kids are going to be begging to do stuff the entire time; you’re not going to be let off the hook. You can’t just wander around unless there’s just one or two kids.”

Anneke agrees that going four hours nonstop can be exhausting. “You have to be invested. … Sometimes there’s so many of them, it’s a bit chaotic.”

Anneke holding a baby-1But they all agree it’s worth it. Genevieve says, “It’s been amazing, and I’ve gotten to know my kids better! I’m regularly surprised by behaviors they exhibit and thoughts they share with me that I think I wouldn’t have gotten to be a part of if we hadn’t chosen to do this together.”

“I just feel like I’m making a good impact on the world because I get to go there and help and be a part of that. It’s fun,” Catcher says.

They’re happy to help kids forget they live at a shelter – and just play.

 

Are you inspired to start volunteering at UGM with your family? Come to a volunteer orientation!

Click here to sign up for a volunteer overview. >>

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