An Active Summer
By: Joshua Shoemaker
For many foster children FAN is the one place they can call home. Through after school and summer programs, Fan provides a fun and loving environment where foster youth can participate in sports and activities and make friends with others in similar situations. FAN provides a safe haven, relationships with caring adults, friendships that don’t end when their living situation changes, emotional and academic support and a wide range of fun things to do. FAN’s activities change all the time; they are determined by the skills and interests of our mentors, and the available budget for supplies and field trips. There is always something going on at FAN and the participants benefit from the ongoing interaction, and the emphasis on working together as a group. No matter what they are doing, they are learning about respect, social interaction and behavioral expectations while spending time with people who truly care.
For foster youth, there are always programs in place to ensure they receive food, shelter and an education. But those are only the basics; children need so much more and FAN works very hard to fill that void. New experiences and new relationships expand our minds, open us to new ways of thinking and teach us about life. FAN strives to provide as many new experiences as possible for kids who may never have been outside of the Washington DC area.
Last week the kids and mentors went on a field trip to the zoo. It was a beautiful day to walk around and look at the animals. But it was really much more than that. It’s always a great day when everyone can get outside and go somewhere new, and many of our kids had never been to the zoo. They spent most of the day there and when they returned they were happy and full of positive energy. It was a great change of pace and it provided the mentors with the opportunity to address appropriate behavior in public settings and the need to stay together as a group. It was really so much more than just a trip to the zoo.
This week the kids participated in a cooking class taught by one of our mentors. First they learned about meal prep as they gathered the necessary tools and ingredients. Then they made fried chicken – really good and crispy fried chicken. And, finally, they learned the proper way to clean up and dispose of the waste. The cooking lesson was certainly fun and important but there were much bigger lessons built in. Throughout the process there were discussions about learning how to provide for yourself, and how knowing how to cook is an important part of being independent. They talked about how much you save when you prepare your own meals rather than eating out, rules for kitchen safety, and the importance of cleanliness. The cooking lesson was a lot of fun and the chicken was certainly delicious, but that was only a small part of what they gained from that experience.
On Tuesday, we all went roller skating. It was a huge success as all the kids had the chance to just be kids and release their energy in a carefree way. Initially some of the children and even the mentors were hesitant to try skating. But the group dynamics were great as the kids encouraged and supported each other. Even our program director, Marlon Jones, ended up on the ground a few times, but he always got back up and kept on going. A lot of positive team building took place that afternoon as the kids helped each other up and encouraged each other to try something new. As with so many of the FAN activities, this was a lot more than just a roller skating trip for these kids.
Speaking for myself, I took a lot of my experiences for granted as I was growing up. If it was summer, I knew I would go to the beach. When school started, I would join a soccer team, and in the winter I usually went skiing at least once. I learned a lot from these experiences and every time I tried something new it gave me more confidence for future challenges. All my team experiences taught me about expectations, sportsmanship, and how to get along with all kinds of people.
FAN does not have a large staff or tremendous resources, but this team is doing so much to give the kids at least a small sample of the experiences most kids have when they are growing up. It’s a privilege to be part of this community.