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!