Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mercy Me

For the past two years I have had the distinct honor to work with a team of amazing volunteers at Mercy Center. This little building in the South Bronx offers everything from parenting and family life skills classes to ESL/immigration services and computer training. You may have read about it in the past when I described our annual Project Cicero runs. It's a beacon of grace in a tough neighborhood and a place I'll miss dearly when we leave New York.

When I contacted the center in 2010, they asked me to work with children in a program called Saturday Reading Enrichment. I was less than thrilled due to my inexplicable fear of groups of children in a learning environment (aka teaching), but agreed as soon as the program director, Mayra, told me I could work with the kids one-on-one as a personal reading tutor.

Two years later, I have a special place in my heart for five budding scholars. I've done everything from environmental science with David to first grade sight words with Myra. Ariel is one of the best second grade readers I've met. She makes me smile when she reads a sentence ending with an exclamation point with enthusiasm and italics with sarcasm. These kids have been nurtured by a team of wonderful volunteers and will continue to progress until one day (we hope) they become college-educated volunteer tutors themselves:

Mayra is such a special woman. She beams with joy when she looks out over the group of kids every Saturday. She is flexible, tender, open and gracious. When Meg (above, far right) and I offered to start supplying healthy snacks for snack time, she embraced our idea and encouraged us to try new options every week. Imagine our surprise when they gobbled up baby carrots (without Ranch dressing!) or came back for second helpings of bananas! Mayra said she would continue the healthy snack plan next year, I have high hopes for it's ongoing success.

Mercy Center is built in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy. In the spirit of the Gospel, the Sisters of Mercy's mission is to help people to overcome obstacles that keep them from living full and dignified lives. My prayer is that the Saturday Reading Enrichment program continues to help these children overcome obstacles through education and literacy.

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