Monday night we have The Party. I run the group for the younger children - from Kindergarten through Grade 5. There's also a separate group for Grade 6 and up - the teen group. We follow the same general formal each week - kids love routine (and frankly, so do the adults). Bram and I drive to the school at 5:45 and pick up any teens that are there waiting, to bring them to help. We get to the Rainbow Centre at about 5:55. Kevin V's already there, and he's set out the orange cones that mark the out of bounds areas and covered the computers with a tarp.
Bram stays at the door and greets kids as they arrive. I go downstairs and immediately take the clipboard and start recording names as people arrive. I have three columns - from left to right, the first column is for the kids grades K through 5. The middle column is for the teen group and the final column is for the helpers. This evening however, I couldn't find the box of Dixie cups that I keep in my van, so I drove home for them; couldn't find them, so drove to the grocery store for them. The Dixie cups are for drinking; there's no water fountain but there is a water cooler. I didn't get back until nearly 6:30.
The kids trickle in between 6 and 6:30 - a lot of them are picked up by our drivers who go on a set route. There's a general play time (we have balls and skipping ropes) and the kids run and play and have fun. At 6:30, the same drivers take the teen group (and a large group of helpers) over to Zieke's place. The remaining helpers and the younger group stay and play for another 5-10 minutes, then we have circle time. This is when we sing a few songs, talk about rules and expectations, and have a Bible story. This week we weren't doing the Bible story; we were having a craft instead, so I showed the craft. I also do a very small bit of math - I count the kids and say, "Ok, if we have this many kids; how many are going to be in each group if we have three groups?" This week we had 37 kids - that's groups of 12!!! Normally we have around 23-30 kids. Also because Ruth (my sister, our story lady) wasn't here this week, and we were short on helpers, I was running the craft station. Normally, I'm the floater - making sure the groups rotate on time and putting out fires and dealing with incidents. We actually ended up with 41 kids, as four others came in late. I think this is a new record for this year.
Marina, one of our helpers, was saying, "I can deal with just about anything that comes in to the Emergency Ward but I come home from The Party feeling shell shocked." I kind of go with the flow; I'm a teacher and not much phases me - but I do appreciate the many, many volunteers we do have - we can't run the program without them. This week we only had 10 helpers for over 40 kids; which is a really poor ratio. That means, once you take out the three leaders for each of the stations, that you only have two helpers per group - or about one helper for every six kids.
After circle time, we rotate through three centres (story, games, and snack); spending roughly 15 minutes in each centre. Then there's about 10 to 15 minutes left for play time before it's time to go home again. During the final play time, several of the helpers are doing the clean up; emptying garbage cans, doing dishes (if needed) and sweeping the floor. When the drivers arrive, we shoo the kids out to the various vehicles and drive everyone home. This week we ended up with an unclaimed pair of shoes and a kid missing his shoes. (The kids all take off their shoes at the door, just like they do at school.) This is the second time this has happened this year. It's not a happy thing and we have to go and explain to the parents that we're sorry and we don't know where the shoes are.
It's always a fairly wild and crazy time. Some weeks we wonder what, if anything, the kids get out of it. I'm regularly telling individuals, "You have to start behaving now, or I'll send you home" or "We have a hands off rule." The amazing thing is that I rarely do have to send someone home. The Lord works through us, despite us.
Next week is our last session before we break for the summer. We've invited everyone's families for a feast day. If we had over 40 kids tonight; I wonder how many we'll have out for the feast? It should be interesting. We will then have nearly a full month off before we run a VBS in the park, as part of Mission 6:10 - and then we have the month of August off before we start again in September. The teen group is planning to continue to meet through the summer. More power to them; I'm ready for a break. (Mind you, as a teacher, I'm winding down to the end of the school year at work as well.)