I’ve recently begun volunteering one morning a week at a local Children’s Shelter. It is one of three in San Antonio that temporarily house children in need until they are either fostered, adopted or go back to a family member. The building I help out at is bright orange in colour and a stone’s throw away from Woodlawn Lake Park on the near west side of town where I sometimes go for a walk and feed the many ducks. At the Shelter there is a small school, a number of dormitories each with six small beds, and a canteen and dining area. The children range from newborns to 17. I’m sure it’s not perfect there but one thing that always strikes me on entering the place is the pleasant atmosphere and the friendliness apparent between staff and the children.
My plan was to help the school-age kiddies here read and do sums, but as the little school doesn’t open until August 13th I’ve been assisting with the toddlers and newborns. These little ones are all from San Antonio and are mostly Hispanic with just a couple of Anglos and African-Americans. They are freshly scrubbed and dressed in nice clothes that are either donated or bought from Walmart using vouchers donated to the Shelter. On first seeing them I couldn’t help thinking of Mattie and the case of second-hand clothes she brought with her when she moved in, most of which were far too large!
The nursery has room only for six cots. Baby Scarlett, at one month old, is the youngest there at the moment and Baby Enrique, at 6 months, the oldest. All of the babies love to be picked up and cuddled of course. Sadly, we’re not allowed to pick up the toddlers on the basis that the others will feel left out. My morning is taken up playing with them, taking them to the bedrooms to have diapers (nappies) changed and to the dining room for a snack and later, lunch. On my first morning the snack was a sno cone, a paper cup full of crushed ice which is topped with a syrup like strawberry or bubble gum. The children loved it and I thought back to the many times, whilst Mike was working, when little Mattie and I would drive over to the swimming hole at Burgers Lake in Fort Worth and how she loved going to buy herself a sno cone. Funnily enough, lunch at the Shelter on my first day consisted of ground beef (mince) with carrots and potatoes – the same meal I remember Mattie eating when I was first invited to her foster home for lunch. Helping out at the Shelter has made me wonder, again, how Mattie, as a 2 year-old, felt on arriving at her new foster home all alone. Here, at least for the time they spend here, families are kept together.
Whilst writing this, I looked up some reviews of the Shelter online and one child wrote: I lived here for a few months before I got adopted about 8 years ago. The staff were kind and never mistreated us. One of the staff members would straighten my hair if I asked. We went trick or treating and got presents on Christmas.