Every year, Wells Fargo hosts a Week of Caring where employees can choose to take time off work and volunteer. I’ve been at Wells for four years now and have done a different activity each time.
1. Beach cleanup
2. Distributing groceries to those with AIDS/HIV through Project Open Hand
3. Stuffing boxes at the SF food bank
4. Playing with kids at the Florence Crittenton Centers in Hayes Valley
I was so excited when I found an activity this year that involved inner city children. I was tired of the hands-off activities I’d done in prior years…although I really enjoyed grocery shopping for the sickly through Project Open Hand. The sick (they were all gay men) came to the center, handed us their shopping lists, then we would “shop” at the center’s grocery store for all their different food items, then hand the boxes of groceries back to them.
I have always loved volunteering with children, but can’t seem to fit it into my work schedule. Is there a shelter open on the weekends where I can play with kids? Can’t seem to find one.
Yesterday, I spent the first half of the day from 8am to Noon at this center with nine other Wells Fargo employees. The center provides child care to kids up through the age of 2 1/2. They take a few babies and 11 toddlers. Particularly interesting is the kids don’t necessarily come from poverty. Depending on the situation, some kids are free, others are on a sliding scale, and still there are others who pay the full price of childcare. That’s how they are able to profitably keep the center running. First impression was that the kids were all totally cute!!! Second impression was that the staff seemed incredibly caring and effective. I was so impressed with all the kids as they sat and ate their breakfast, drinking juice from dixie cups and feeding themselves cereal. The people running the center practically talk to the kids like they’re adults. “Tell me what you want. You want more juice or milk? Ok, set your cup down. Cup down first before you get more milk.” It was fascinating. One of the other Wells volunteers said, “I’m taking notes. My three year old doesn’t even pay this much attention.”
We spent about an hour getting to know the kids and playing with them while they did various activities. Some of them finger painted. Others played with toys. After getting oriented, I sat down on the floor and opened up a book. “Who wants to read with me?” Several toddlers headed my way and tried to insert themselves on my lap. “Do you spend a lot of time with kids?” Someone at the center asked me.
“No, not really.”
“You are so good with them.”
“I think it’s because I’m their size.”
Well, I seemed to be the favorite volunteer of the day. The kids followed me around as we took our field trip to Golden Gate Park and explored the Conservatory of Flowers. One chubby Asian boy took a profound liking to me. Richard had a mop of hair down past his shoulders. One of the teachers sighed, “His mommy. I have no idea why she don’t cut his hair.” She rolled her eyes. We all thought he was a girl at first with his soft, round features, and long thin hair. Richard cried every time I walked out of his sight. And the poor thing bawled loudly when our volunteer time was over and I picked up my belongings to go. “Oh my, Richard,” I soothed as I gave him one last long hug. “A guy crying because I’m leaving? This just never happens to me. I’m touched.” Everyone laughed as I gave him a kiss good-bye.