Sometimes we adults get so caught up in being grown that we miss the point completely. Happened to me recently. One day a week I work with “at risk” teens in a school garden. Because of a deer problem, the garden is a small 8′ X 10′ fenced in space with a few raised beds and pots. About two weeks ago we harvested lettuce to make a big salad, and chopped up our own kale for the chicken soup the teacher and students made in the classroom crock pot overnight. I ran to the store for bread, chocolate chip cookies and orange juice.

It was a beautiful day. We sat near the garden at the big round picnic table and ate. It was quite a feast! This is a class of five middle school young men at a school where  students are dealing with some of life’s biggest challenges; from substance abuse to torn home lives; academic and behavior problems to juvenile offenses. Heartbreaking.

One of the young men found a dead juvenile salamander and put it on the table as we finished our meal—I did mention this is middle school testosterone. In between bites they examined the specimen, discussing whether or not it was a snake. Someone pointed out the teeny legs and the discussion ended. A few minutes later I noticed that the salamander was surrounded by orange juice.

Then one of the young men poured some of his orange juice onto the ground.
“Now wait a minute,” I said, “that’s perfectly good fresh squeezed, can’t have your pouring it out!”
He answered,That’s for my homies. That died.

I shrank.
I shook his hand (we do that a lot in my classes) and apologized. I gave my condolences for his friends and commended him for honoring their memory with libations. He didn’t know the word so we all talked about that.

Bouquet from our garden, made yesterday to honor the fallen young.

Bouquet from our garden, made yesterday to honor the fallen young.

This school is known as an alternative education school. Back in the day we called them continuation schools. I give huge kudos to the adults that choose to work at these schools. I’ve been going once a week for six months and each time I witness things that break my heart, so I can’t imagine working there day in, day out for twenty years.

In the car right now I’m listening to a This American Life podcast: #487-488 ~ Harper High School—in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago—about gun violence and the new face of inner city gangs. It’s hard to imagine the lives of hardworking parents trying to raise their kids who are held hostage by the circumstances of their birth; pushed to the fringes of society where they barely hang on, and all too often fall. I highly recommend that you listen, and know: it’s not just Chicago, it’s also Marin County, California. I started listening yesterday. Had to come home and make a feel better bouquet. In a few minutes, I’ll leave for my garden class with the middle school young men.

The only way I can return each week is by focusing on those glimmers of hope, like the orange juice libation.

I had a t-shirt made that says: You Can Change Your Life for Good. I wear it each time I go for my class.

Last week one of the young men was looking at the t-shirt.
He said, “You like sayings, don’t you?”
“Yes I do.”
He asked, “Does that mean for better or forever?”
I said, “For better forever.”
I liked the question.

Please get out and volunteer in the places where you can make a difference in the lives of young folk on the fringes.

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