Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mentorship: Volunteering at The Lab

In 2009 I began volunteering at The Lab and began working with "R" (that's us looking into each other's eyes ;-) The Lab is an arts & wellness-based program in St. Paul Schools. They serve youth in special education, grades 7-12 and are committed to providing creative and experiential learning opportunities that support long-term social & emotional health for urban youth.

Sometimes humans have been hurt so much that it's hard for them to trust -- that's what I've learned about all of these great kids. I share with them my story (mom does the talking!) of how it took me a while to learn to trust again. In 2009 my mom and I volunteered as "mentors" at The Lab. We spent time with this one really cool kid, "R." "R" and I got teamed up and I got to hang out with him every week. I remember the first time we met ... I could tell he liked me (and I liked him too!) but he really wasn't sure what to do with me. As weeks passed (and there were days when all we would do is hang out together while he played word games with my mom) I could feel his heart opening up ... I think my heart also started to open up to. Every Tuesday my mom and I would wait for "R" to arrive at The Lab. He would arrive in a St. Paul yellow cab with a couple other kids, escorted by an adult. As our bond grew, and weeks passed, "R" would dart out of the cab and run into the building to meet me. I would wait for him to walk through the door. I love to see the big smile on his face and how he would get down on his knees and give me a big bear hug. The first time the other kids met me, "R" said "This is my dog, AH-NUNG" and he hugged me for the tenth time. My pal "R" -- he can hug me a hundred times and that wouldn't even be enough.

I haven't seen "R" in a long time. I miss him. Today i'm volunteering at The Lab ... this time, it's for a "Dog Group". I hear my pal "R" may be coming. I really hope he does so I can see him again and tell him I miss him, and thank him for opening up my heart and my mom's heart to what's possible by volunteering at The Lab.

The Lab is a really cool place because they have programs where therapy dogs can participate. Me, i'm pretty mellow. I can do some of that dog obedience stuff (my pal Sharpie is much better at that though!) but I think my strength is in the 1:1 work I do with kids like "R" (in 2009) and this year my mom and I worked with "J" [i wrote about it here]. I connect with the kids at The Lab, and I think they really connect with me and my story. Like "R" i went through so much before I was rescued by Karen of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue (heartworm, lymes disease, gun shot, starvation - and I have no front teeth to prove it! You name it, i'm a survivor!). The Animal Assisted Education programs at The Lab is really taking off this year. I'm hoping mom will let me do more 1:1 mentorships with the kids. Don't get me wrong ... I love the groups, but there's something special about working with just one kid ... like "R", and now "J" ... there's something so powerful in the bond that gets created between us and the healing that takes place for all of us lucky enough to be a part of that circle.

Hugs from "R" and "J" and slobbery kisses from me (ahnung)

P.S. Check it out ... i'm on The Lab's website!! :)

P.P.S. You should also check out this really cool video/documentary of another volunteer Bill who has been working 1:1 with one of the kids to teach him how to play the guitar ... and in the process, so much more about life. You will also hear from the volunteer Bill how volunteering as mentor has helped him. Click here.

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