Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pretty in paint

When I was in Girl Scouts, we received a badge book. We would flip the pages and decide which badges we wanted to earn. Now Girls Scouts go through journeys so they are assigned projects and badges. To complete a journey, the girls must complete a related community service project.

This was how we found ourselves in a shelter for women and children painting the common area today. The space was used for families to do their laundry, as well as for children to receiving tutoring or participate in activities. It was dark and cluttered and dirty and depressing.

We planned this for months. First we spent time talking about the families who lived in the shelter. We planned the space after considering the different ways the families used it. We looked at dozens of paint chips, talking about how different colors would look. We had an adventure buying materials at a local hardware store. We created lists so every family knew what to bring. We made a plan.  Today we executed the plan.

We discussed a division of duties with the shelter staff. There were only a couple of things we asked them to do. The big one was to get rid of excess stuff that accumulated there. People donated items to the shelter and what wasn't immediately needed ended up piled up in the basement. We had to clean out a lot of stuff before we could even start painting. Unless we removed some stuff we didn't have enough space to move the furniture to paint the walls.

The girls were natural painters. The parents alternately painted, trained and supervised. We were busy, but it was fun. Daddy and the blond twin painted a bathroom while the rest of the troop and the parents painted the walls.

The girls' cousin Zach came with us to help. He needed community service hours for high school. We needed his help to get everything moved, rearranged and painted. The girls all liked having Zach around. Zach went from being the youngest child in his family to being a big brother to five girls, even if just for a day.

It took longer than we hoped, but it was a job well done. The shelter staff came by to ooohh and aaaahhhh during and after the painting. We took photos to document their work transforming a drab, dirty space into a bright, pretty area with plenty of space for crafts and tutoring and relaxing. We were all covered in paint and tired, but it was a good kind of tired. Our girls were so happy with the project. They talked about how much fun they had and how happy they were to help the shelter families. They compared the amount of paint on their hands, clothes and hair.

We had hoped they'd internalize the experience and realize how much they have to give, not in terms of money, but in terms of their time and energy. They did finish their journey and earn their badges. I'm pretty sure they also learned that there is truly something satisfying about spending time helping others. It would be best lesson of the day.

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