By Lauren Mickler, Student Volunteer
“I forgot how to play Four Square.” I told my friend Yalda as we scrambled to find another game to play. We were surrounded by screaming, laughing, fast elementary school kids at the Sulzbacher Center, which is a homeless shelter that not only houses women, children, and men but helps them find jobs. The games we had planned for this Friday night adventure took less than a half hour to play through, and our imaginations were running on fumes. Volunteers were rattling off childhood games, and I seemed to recall that Four Square was a lot of fun. However, the nuances of the game escaped me, and I realized very suddenly that I was an adult. Soon enough, one of the more outspoken kids started explaining how to play, essentially saving the day, at least from my perspective. Less than five minutes after it had started, however, we were playing freeze tag again. I felt myself relax and let go of control. Becoming an adult is frightening, to say the least, but I understood that being open to following an 8-year-old was enough.
Here’s the thing, while this could be a story about adults who learn the meaning of life from children, I feel that would be undercutting the reason that we decided to volunteer in the first place. One of the Sulzbacher Center’s employees was thanking us, because usually these kids are so bored on Friday nights. No one comes to visit them. We did not come to preach some message to these kids, we did not come to endorse a product, or even motivate them to do anything. What we did do was show up. In the simplest, most relatable way we knew how; fun. I can’t say for certain what those kids got out of us being there, but I hope that they felt loved and worthy at the end of the night. I hope that they knew that someone wanted to spend time with them for no reason other than that.
At the Interfaith center, a staple at almost all of our events is the Check-in. We introduce ourselves, our religious or non-religious worldview, and why we’re here. So, why was I, Lauren Mickler, a Spiritual Catholic, here? Why was I out of breath, sweaty, and uncomfortable? Certainly, because it was the right thing to do. Maybe a little because Yalda, my UNF interfaith friend, had organized it, and I wanted to support her. The games we picked were fun, but enough to drive all the way downtown? I think it was because I felt a call from my Higher Power to go. There were reasons, surely, but I think I really went because it was the thing to do. And while I was there, I noticed that no check-in took place. These kids weren’t asking me what my religious identity was, or why I was white and they weren’t. They didn’t ask why I was wearing what I was, or why I was there. If I looked in their eyes when I spoke, they looked back. I think Tarah Trueblood, the Interfaith Center director, put it best when she said “It was enough to just be human.”