This was my last week at the Bethlehem Centers of Nashville. Trying to explain my experience with these fantastic people simply cannot be put into words. The final week was the hardest, all the kids were excited for the camp to end and start school back in August, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to them. These kids have helped me through so much, and they don’t even realize it. I like to think I made some sort of impact on their life, but being with them for two short months has wholly altered the way I perceive the world.
Coming in as a privileged white girl who goes to an expensive school and has gotten everything I’ve ever wanted– I felt obsolete. These kids have gone through a lot, and they’ve had to learn unfair lessons about life t six that I didn’t have to learn until I became a teenager. I never knew having two parents or not owning Jordan’s was a big deal. I never worried about having a car to get to school or having food on the table when I got home. But I learned secondhand what it’s like. Giving an extra breakfast to a kid because he said he was famished, then giving him a second lunch and extra snacks to take home is the closest I’ll ever get to worry about that. Having someone get a girl food from across the street because she doesn’t have the lunch she needs for her special diet is the closest I’ll ever get to worry about that. And knowing all you can do is give a kid more cereal or pizza or the lunch you brought for yourself is hard. Every night when I got home, I prayed they would have a nice meal, that they got home safe, and that they slept well that night. Knowing all you can do is limited for someone who deserves unlimited love and care is really hard. I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.
On the second to last day of camp, I taught a lesson to the kids about David and Goliath. I read a short book telling the story, and I explained how David had God on his side, and he was able to face his fears and defeat the scariest thing in the world. I taught them with God on their side, they won’t have to be scared of anything. I drew a Goliath on a big piece of paper and hung it on the wall, and I asked the kids to write/draw what they were afraid of, crumble it up, and then throw it at Goliath. This way, they wouldn’t be scared of those things anymore. Some kids said they were scared of the dark and spiders. Some kids said other heartbreaking things. But letting them take that and throw it, being able to take control of their fear, hopefully, helped them through it. And they loved throwing things around without getting in trouble. They loved the story and the activity. I’m glad I was able to teach it.
There are three kids I would adopt in a second, and saying goodbye to them was really hard. One of them gave me a baby Yoda balloon animal before I left because they knew I loved Star Wars. The bittersweet thing about leaving was the kids didn’t realize it was the last time I would see them for a while. They left smiling when their parents picked them up, not knowing it was the last time for a long time that I’d see them again. One girl knew it, and she sat next to me before she left and said, “Y’know, Ms. Alayna, I’m really going to miss you.” I told her I was going to miss her too. She was the only one who realized the last day was the last.
Before the kids left, all the teachers gave advice to them for the new school year. They told stories about keeping out of trouble and keeping each other safe. They told stories of losing friends and family because they got into trouble and how it’s changed them today. Coach D told the kids, “let’s prove that black boys and girls can be successful.” It breaks my heart that it has to be proved. These kids deserve the world. Not hateful stereotypes of people that know nothing about them. I know them, love them, and hate that the world might not love them. They deserve every good thing God can offer, and I pray they get to live the best lives they possibly can every night. I pray that they’re safe and happy and laughing. I was up all night praying for them, hoping they’d be protected by their family and teachers.
The people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned in the two short months I’ve been in my fellowship have been lessons I will carry on into my future. I am so grateful for my experiences, and I’m so thankful I met these kids. Mrs. Huff told me on my first day that the Bethlehem Centers were destined to do good things since its gestation. And I am honored to be part of it, even in the slightest of ways.