I stood there frozen with fear. I was about to go out in front of an audience that was not willing to sit still. They squirmed. They were talking amongst themselves. They were ready for a show and I was going to have to give it to them.
Why, oh why did I agree to this? Was I crazy? Did I have a death wish? I was going to have to keep an audience of 25 entertained for up to half an hour. I wasn’t sure I could do it.
Did I bring the right materials?
Would my voice hold out?
Would they like me?
“And now,” I heard from inside the room, “boys and girls, please welcome Mr. Kelly!”
I walked around the corner to face that most volatile and hostile of all audiences.
I didn’t feel like I had much on my side. My giant stature caused audible gasps from the tiny people seated criss-cross applesauce on the rug depicting a map of the United States. As I strode to the front of the room, to the ubiquitous Reader Chair, my heart skipped a few beats. I was armed only with my shaky smile and a series of Dr. Seuss books. I cleared my throat.
“Hi, kids,” I said. “I am Mr. Kelly from the Galleria Atlanta Kiwanis Club and I am here to read to you today. Does anyone like Dr. Seuss?” A bunch of hands went up, some went back down, then up again, but it seemed like Dr. Seuss was going to be a good bet. Some hands remained up.
I pointed to a little girl on the front row, “Yes, sweetie, do you have a question?”
“I like Cat in the Hat” she said and she smiled a grin, minus some of her front teeth.
“Uh, okay, thank you for that. Does anyone else have a question?”
A little boy on the front row wearing a Deion Sanders #21 Falcons jersey had his hand up and I pointed at him. “We have three cats” he announced proudly, putting his hand down.
I looked over at the teacher who was sitting in her desk with her head in her hands, in some sort of self-induced coma or hypnotic state, and I realized I was on my own.
“Well, I could keep taking questions, but I only have a half an hour with you and I brought three books and I want to make sure I have time to read them all. So, let’s hold all of the questions until I am done reading the first book and we’ll see how it goes,” I said.
By this time, the flop sweat was pouring off of me, but the kids agreed and I started:
“I am Sam”. Turn the page. “I am Sam”.
Next page, audience at rapt attention. “Sam I am”
“That Sam I am, that Sam I am, I do not like that Sam I am.”
I was settling into the same kind of groove that I had when I read to my daughter, Amanda, who was also five. I got several pages into the book: “I would not eat them here or there, I would not eat them…”
And the whole crowd shouted: “ANYWHERE!”
“I do not like Green Eggs and Ham, I do not like them…”
And again they got ahead of me… “Sam I am.”
We had a great time reading further about Sam, I am, green eggs, and ham. And thus began my commitment to read to kids sixteen years ago, a commitment that continues to this day.
I now read once per month to a group of kindergarteners at an at-risk elementary school in Atlanta. A lot of these kids don’t have a positive, male role model who is present in their home. If there is a male present, he may not be a positive influence. The kids see me, a man, come into their school and I am nicely-dressed, clean-shaven, smelling of nothing stronger than Crest, and I treat their teacher, usually a woman, with respect and attention. And I want to be there with them, to read to them, to listen to them go off on tangents unrelated to the story, to hear about how they get home at 3 pm and they have to lock all of the doors and stay inside because an adult will not be home until 6 pm. All this at 5 and 6 years of age!
There are some great “benefits”, too. The kids all eagerly shout my name “Mr. Kelly, Mr. Kelly” whenever I come in. I usually also get group hugs as I come into the room, then again when I leave. And they continue to recognize me and say hi when they see me in the hallway as they get older. Serving others is a great opportunity and reward.
What is your favorite service project? Share it below so others can learn from your passion!
Dave Kelly is the leading authority on Student Leadership and Community Service on college campuses today. As a professional trainer, motivator, and servant leader, Dave is an expert on all aspects of running and leading campus organizations and developing the character of a servant leader. Dave has 20+ years training leaders and advisors from Student Government Associations, Campus Activities Boards and campus clubs of every kind on Campus Organization Leadership and Community Service Projects. He has trained students and advisors at more than 140 different colleges and universities and is the national coordinator for the APCA Serves! Initiative by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.