Friday is our community project day at LightHouse. While everything at LightHouse is optional, we especially stress the optionality of Fridays. No computers, no mayhem. Just working together as a group to work on various community projects that the group chooses together. Teens who aren’t interested should stay home that day or find something else to do. Not joining us on Fridays is a totally fine and great choice.
Knowing this, about half of our teens choose to come. This is ideal. Those attending are focused and present. Effective community work cannot be mandatory. I left at the end of the day this past week feeling amazed. This was the day:
8:30-9:00, hellos, chatting, connecting, making an agenda for the day.
9:00-11:00, cleaning and organizing the space. While we have a wonderful custodian who comes in early every morning, the space does tend to get cluttered and disorganized over the course of the week, especially the Maker Space and the kitchen. So the group spent the first couple hours of the day cleaning and organizing, and it was amazing. Nelson and I were the staff people for the day, and Janine, a LightHouse parent, has been joining us. We all got started cleaning together, and then Nelson and I backed off and retreated to our offices to get some computer work done. The teens stayed on task for most of the morning. At first we planned to be done cleaning by 10:30, but they were still deep in it, so we gave it another half hour. They cleaned and organized the maker space and sorted and put away new donations that came in. They made labels, decluttered…
Meanwhile, another group took on the kitchen and supply closet. They washed everything, cleaned out the fridge, and cleaned and organized the whole supply closet. They made all the decisions about what, where, and how it would all go, and they did an amazing job.
Why? Why would a group of teenagers willingly spend the morning cleaning? I can’t say what all the motivations are for each teen, but I have some general theories. It was fun, first of all. They put loud music on, laughed a lot… And secondly, more importantly- the space is theirs, and they are proud of it. It’s beautiful, and they want to keep it that way. It’s theirs.
So that was fantastic. They also cleaned the table in the common room where someone had drawn a little tiny graffiti heart, and tightened up the table legs while they were at it.
THEN, we re-gathered and starting working on our community park project. The group is working on a plan to renovate nearby Soucey Park, the sad, abandoned park on Clemente St. Their first step has been to create a petition and go around the neighborhood getting signatures to demonstrate interest in renovating the park, and to hear people’s thoughts on what they would like to see there instead. We spent some time role playing and practicing talking to strangers, and then we split into two groups to canvas the neighborhood. My group went out for a little over an hour and collected more than 50 signatures. I did almost no talking. The teens introduced themselves, talked about the project, and got people to sign all over our neighborhood.
We reconvened back at LightHouse for lunch, and then moved onto our next major project of the moment, planning a Halloween party for the kids living at the family homeless shelter on Main St. Our teens are super excited about this and have lots of great ideas. We spent time clarifying exactly what is happening and who is responsible for what, and then spent the last hour of the day beginning to decorate. So fun.
It’s important to note that while our teens are amazing, they are also just regular kids, coming from a variety of educational experiences, many of them uninspiring. Now here they are, five weeks later, responsible, helpful, community leaders. They are not perfect, and will never be. But they are approaching their lives and educations in new and inspiring ways, and it is a joy to witness.