By Kristen Williams, Ryther Volunteer
A person never thinks about the life they have had, until they have to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. You never realize how good your life has been, until you hear children talk about their hardships in life; things that a young person should not have to deal with. I experienced this when I was given the opportunity to spend a day at Ryther.
On my drive into Ryther, I was very nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. But that feeling quickly faded away. When I arrived, Katie and I walked down to Cottage C, where I would be spending my day. We started off our day by watching cartoons with the children. While they finished watching the cartoons, Katie took me on a tour of the cottage and showed me how the children live their everyday lives.
Our first stop, on our cottage tour, was the schedule. Since most of these children are not used to living by a schedule, everyday is planned out for them, in 15 or 30 minute intervals. Our next stop on the tour was one of the rooms in the cottage. The cottage is split into two levels, and each child in the cottage has their own bedroom. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the bedroom looks like every other bedroom that I have seen. The door was decorated to match their personality and inside was a bed, dresser and window. The last stop on our tour was the kitchen. The kitchen is quite large, and the children help cook the meals and set the table for each meal.
After our tour, we came back just in time for their morning group therapy. I was a little nervous to see how the children would react to me being there during this session, but they seemed to go about it as if I wasn’t there. (Now before I go into details about the session I think that everyone should start doing this as part of their morning routine.) All of the children sat around and the leader told them that she wanted them to write down three things that they were going to do that day, and on the back write down one thing that they wanted to work on that week. I started thinking about work and everything that I needed to get done, but my thoughts changed when I heard the children’s answers. I was surprised when more than one child said one of the things they were going to do that day was smile. Smile…something that I don’t even think about on a daily basis and this is something these children have to work on. At this point I had been there less than an hour, and these children already had me thinking about my childhood.
After we were done with group therapy, it was time to go outside and play. Katie and I followed them out and we walked through all of the different areas and watched them play. After we walked around, we came back in and noticed one little boy who was inside by himself playing with play dough. He looked up at Katie and me, and invited us to come and join him. Not too long after we sat down with him, he began asking me questions. His first question to me was where are you from? I responded, “Florida.” I knew as soon as I gave him my answer, that he and I were going to have something in common. He looked up at me and told me this long story about living with his aunt in Florida. From there we talked non-stop for the next 30 minutes.
After play time was over, everyone came back inside and it was lunch time. To keep the children in good health, each meal is portioned. We had a chicken sandwich, chips and melon for lunch and I was surprised how full I was after the meal. When everyone was finished, the children clean their own dishes and then go into their rooms for quiet time. During quiet time, a few select children were able to stay out with Katie and me to paint some pictures. Katie and I sat down with three of the children and started painting. As we painted, the children began to open up more and more, talking about themselves and their lives. The more we painted the more I learned about each child that was sitting in front of me.
This is one of my best days that I have had, since I moved to Washington, and I wish that everyone who cared about children had the opportunity to spend a day on campus. I will never forget the children that I met and the friendships that I made while I was there.