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The Brooks Homework Club: Reflections

Volunteering at The Brooks by Abigail Porter 

I loved being a volunteer at the Brooks Homework Club this past year. Every week I looked forward to seeing the children who came and spending time with them. Although assistance with homework was initially the goal of the club, we had many children come who didn’t have homework but seemed eager to play, have fun, talk, and relax. For me, it was most important to create a warm, safe, caring, and welcoming environment. To provide a wider experience, we brought in puzzles, games, and a variety of enrichment and creative art activities for the children. Although some weeks were chaotic (like the time we had 15 children and 3 volunteers), the energy and enthusiasm of the children each week made me smile. Many of the children who came to the club gravitated to drawing and painting. Some had specific characters they liked to draw, or wanted to learn how to draw. One day I asked a boy what made him happy. He drew a picture of two stick people holding hands – labeled them “me” and “you” and smiled a quiet smile. I introduced several printmaking projects to the children, which they took on with gusto and amazing results. I’m attaching several images of the children’s artwork here. Watching the children experiment with colors or paints, and the joy on their faces as they did so, was incredibly rewarding. I delighted in getting to know each and every one of the children over the time that they were at the Brooks. I look forward to returning again next fall. 

To the Friendship Community by  Terry McGowan

What a positive and rewarding experience it’s been volunteering with The Brooks’ Homework Club these past five months. The children are delightful (As children are!) and my fellow volunteers are amazing people who care about creating a positive and welcoming environment. It is definitely a challenge trying to meet each child where they are as we never know who will show up or what time during our sessions. Yet, as we got to know the children and they us, it was wonderful to witness their delight with each session. I loved getting to know each child, assisting with homework and having fun with them. We learned what activities they liked and adapted, trying new books and games each week, etc. It was hard to say goodbye to the families who moved while knowing that is what we want for them. I look forward to returning this fall. 

The Brooks Homework Club: You Are My Neighbor by Jean Johnson

While the city planned and held meeting for two years on the size and placement of the temporary housing facility in Ward 3, I fantasized how the residents could be welcomed by friendly neighbors: maybe teaching cooking classes, a gardening club, swimming lessons, etc.I knew I wanted to make the families feel comfortable in their new surroundings. On the day of their arrival, I sewed a colorful banner that said: “You Are My Neighbor” and brought it to the Brooks. The pandemic closed off opportunities to interact, so I was delighted to hear in 2023 that volunteers were welcome at the Homework Club. Parents had requested help for their children’s homework. 

We iterated with the staff and settled on four activities: Math, Reading, Games and Puzzles and Art. We quickly came to terms with how ineffective a once-a-week homework club would be in making up for any reading and math deficit from the school closures and on-line instruction. So our goals were modest: help the students understand their math homework, encourage reading, give them fun projects and play word games and board games. 

One of the volunteers had years of experience teaching math concepts with hands-on materials that were very helpful in the teaching and comprehension of fractions. Another volunteer brought a circle rug and began reading to small groups. Some of the most fun evenings were with art materials that made a big impact and allowed very creative expression. Some mothers joined in. Another volunteer and her 13-year-old son brought in very well-chosen word games and board games that engaged the students in reading. 

There was little structure and sometimes volunteers felt overwhelmed by the noise and boisterous play. Once we had 15 very active children and three volunteers. It wasn’t as calm as I’m used to in my daily life, but amid the crowd, three mothers talked at a table about their experience navigating one of the city agencies for exploring housing options. I couldn’t hear any details, but the tone was convivial. It reminded me of “women at the well,” sharing their news and concerns and supporting each other. I was happy to be part of a welcoming environment at The Brooks. 

The Brooks Homework Club Volunteer by Luke Sikich 

Hello, my name is Luke Sikich and I am a rising freshman at School Without Walls high school. I started volunteering with my mom at the Brooks in November 2022. Being a part of the Homework Club community has been very special to me. I have been wanting to volunteer at the Brooks since it opened in my neighborhood, but COVID prevented that until this past Fall. 

The best part of Homework Club was getting to spend time with kids who are nice, funny, and hardworking. Every time I worked with a new student, they were very enthusiastic and excited about what they wanted to do that day. I feel lucky to have met so many kids who made me smile each time they entered into the Homework Club room. Recently, I had to miss Homework Club for a couple of weeks due to a conflict with another after school activity. My first time back, I was greeted at the door by one of the elementary school kids who I had gotten to know very well. He ran over to me and hugged me as soon as I came into the room. This made me feel good, as I knew it meant I had made a strong connection with him, and so many of the other kids. His family moved out of the Brooks the next week, and it was great having a chance to see him one last time before his family moved to their new home. 

Homework Club also gave me something new and interesting to look forward to each week, and I got to meet other volunteers who shared the same passion as me. Some weeks kids would have some homework to do, and other weeks they would have time to play learning games. The kids and I came up with a new game involving dominoes and letter cubes. We would take turns building a house out of the dominoes while the other person tried to knock them over, but not until they had spelled a word using the letter cubes. Kids looked forward to that game each week, often coming straight to my table to get it set up. Each week was different and I felt like I had made an impact on each of the kids’ lives. Homework Club has been a lot of fun and I look forward to it starting up again in the Fall.

The Brooks Homework Club Volunteer by Dan Small 

I loved working with the kids at the Brooks. What amazed me most was how quickly they warmed up to the volunteers, who started as total strangers to them. They remembered us from week to week and appeared to be more excited about spending time with us each successive week. And virtually from minute one, they were comfortable being their free-spirited, creative, charming selves. I greatly valued my time with them.

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