If you had asked a lot of my friends, they would say that I should be the last person working with children. I’m not a bad guy by any means, but I’ve never strayed from a dirty joke and I’m not always the most responsible. Some people say that I’m very childlike myself. But that, I would argue, is one of the most important qualities to have when working with children.
I was offered the opportunity to go on the Alternative Spring Break by my friend who is a part of the multicultural group Common Ground. She had me decide that very minute. Without even thinking, I said yes. I had a lot of doubts after I committed but I reasoned that rather than waste my life back in New Jersey and run around New York City like I always do, I would do something positive for a change.
We left for South Carolina on March 8. The trip took about a day to get there from Keene. We stopped at New York and I showed my friend St. Paul’s Church, the historical monument near Ground Zero. We got to Myrtle Beach Saturday and went out to the clubs at the party spot Broadway Beach.
The rest of the week was hard work. We woke up at 6 a.m. every day and got back at seven at night. But it was worth it. The home we volunteered at was called Tara Hall, a home for boys. The home is located in the Rose Hill section of Georgetown County, a rural area of South Carolina. Its mission is to take in boys who were abused and neglected. The ages of the boys range from 6 to 13, and Tara Hall takes them in for two years.
When we were introduced to the home, “I’ve worked with a lot of kids with special needs. I thought there wasn’t a kid I couldn’t handle,” one of the teachers said, “These boys are different.”
She was right; they were, but they were different in a positive way. I felt like I could have conversations with the children at the home I couldn’t have with other children because they knew more about the world. They all had intelligence unmatched by most children their age that I have met or spoke with.
Being with the children was great because I got to be a kid again myself. I missed being that age. I miss the blissful immaturity that they reveled in. I loved riding bikes, playing kickball, skipping stones, and all the other things I used to do when I was a kid.
Kids are hilarious and intimidating because they have such a brutal honesty that isn’t damaged by the pressure to have polite social cues. One kid, Elhajah, noticed the hair I had on both my legs.
“Man your legs are hairy. Why don’t you shave them?”
“It’s not really manly to shave your legs,” I defended.
“Do you get any girls looking like that,” he asked disgusted.
“I do okay,” I replied.
“Wow, I don’t see how.”
The outlandish things that flew out of their mouths were hysterical. The first day I was there I met a kid named Levi. He heard that I did stand-up and said that he had a whole bunch of jokes. I asked to hear them in their English class. I thought they were going to tell “knock, knock” jokes. I had no idea what I was in for.
“Why did the snowman pull down his pants?”
“I don’t know why?”
“Because he heard the Snow Blower coming.”
Then the classic “Yo momma” jokes came out. “Your mother’s so fat,” he told me, “God couldn’t even lift up her spirit.”
As much as I tried to be what I thought a good role model, I had to laugh. Levi, and most of the kids at Tara Hall, reminded me too much of myself at that age. They had jokes that they knew would make jaws drop and they delighted in seeing that, as long as it wouldn’t get them a “pink card.” I realized that while I didn’t have to encourage dirty jokes I didn’t have to pretend to be something I wasn’t. These kids already knew everything. All it was for now, as my friend who went on the trip with me, was to teach them time and place.
One of the kids told me that he wanted to be like me when he grew up because I thought like he did. That’s when I realized something: You don’t have to be a “holier-than-thou” person to be a good role model to kids. You don’t have to be a perfect person. You just have to be yourself because showing the kids that you were just like them and showing how far you’ve come is one of the best examples you can set.
Brian Rabadeau can be contacted at